Far be it from me to school the NHL on geography. The league finally moved the Winnipeg Jets from the Southeast Division of the Eastern Conference, to the Central Division of the Western Conference. League realignment isn’t perfect but it is in a much better place than before. Having said that, NHL blackout rules for TV and their geographical equation, just doesn’t add up.
Case in point, yours truly lives in Albany, NY. Would you like to take a guess on which team is designated as the primary NHL club for Albany, NY? If you said the Buffalo Sabres, then winner, winner, Buffalo wing dinner for you! That’s right, the capital of New York state is designated as Sabres territory. Now one could surely make the case that there is a solid contingent of Sabres fans here, especially given that they’re an Upstate team. Plus there’s a considerable number of fans of the NFL Buffalo Bills across the state as well. So there is an argument to be made for Sabres games to be shown on MSG around here.
What is completely asinine though is that when the Sabres are home and playing at the same time as the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, those teams are blacked out, even though they’re being shown on MSG and MSG Plus in the NYC metro area. Of course you can still watch the Rangers, Islanders and Devils games you’re already paying for MSG and MSG Plus to watch to begin with, if you buy the NHL Center Ice package. An all too convenient way for the NHL to double dip and make its fans pay more for something they’re already paying for and should be getting to begin with.
There are six NHL teams that are closer to Albany than the Sabres. Those include the aforementioned Rangers, Islanders, Devils and the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers. Back before the Sabres were considered the designated team, the Albany area was designated as Hartford Whalers territory, which makes sense geographically but not from a fan base perspective. Get this though, back when the Whalers were the designated team, you couldn’t get their games on cable in Albany!
Speaking of the fan bases, the Albany area is pretty splintered but I wouldn’t call the Sabres the predominant team by a long shot. The Rangers of course are the long established New York team, an original six squad if you will. The Islanders used to have their AHL affiliate, the Capital District Islanders, here in the early 1990′s. Perhaps most egregiously in all of this, the Devils have had their AHL affiliate based here in 17 of the past 21 seasons, with the Albany River Rats from 1993-2006 and the current Albany Devils since 2010. Additionally, the Bruins games used to be on TV here on the old WSBK and the Philadelphia Flyers have their AHL team based in Glens Falls, with the Adirondack Phantoms.
Again, I don’t have any problem with the Sabres games being shown here, even though they sellout most of their games, they are a small market club. Moreover, as mentioned above, Buffalo does have a good swath of fans here. Plus, who doesn’t love Rick Jeanneret? With all things being even though, the Rangers, Islanders and Devils games shouldn’t be blacked out at the expense of the Sabres. Then again Buffalo is in the Atlantic Division, next to that great “coastal” body of water called Niagara Falls.