Are you an out-of-market NHL fan, just dying to take in a nightly hockey game or six? Well, we have great news for you! There are these two products out there that let you do just that!
Ok, maybe it’s not exactly “news” that NHL.tv and NHL CenterIce exist for your purchasing and viewing pleasure, but I’ve learned from trying both products in recent years that—although both are close to doing everything we need them to do as hockey fans—neither is perfect. I’m here to help you understand what the benefits and challenges of both products are, so that you can make an informed decision and ensure that you have every opportunity to fill your brain with endless hours of live non-nationally-covered hockey games.
NHL CenterIce—$139 annually through cable or satellite provider
CenterIce is the product I know best, because I’ve been subscribing to it for the past ten years or so. It really hasn’t changed much in that time, as the basic concepts remain almost exactly as they were upon my first subscription. This is a very reliable service that simply works. You get to watch every game (some will be blacked out if you’re in the local market or it’s being broadcast nationally), you usually can pick from either the home or the away broadcast, and you can record games from your DVR with excellent fast forward/rewind functionality.
That last part is the kicker for me that keeps me on the CenterIce train, because as a west coast hockey fan that closely follows a Central Division team, I rarely am home in time for the start of the games I most want to watch. So, I set the DVR to record all of my favorite team’s games, then when I get home, I watch those games from the beginning and fast forward through commercials and intermissions until I get caught up with the live action. Nothing is spoiled for me in terms of the outcome, so this, to me, is the best way for a west coaster to watch these games.
Now, let’s get to the drawbacks of CenterIce, and start with something that has bothered me from the first time I signed up for this thing. Believe it or not, cable versions of CenterIce STILL DO NOT HAVE ALL CHANNELS IN HD. It’s bonkers to even imagine this, but in 2018, there remains just one or two full-time HD channels in the CenterIce stable.
As a Comcast subscriber, I was quite pleased to see a beta version of CenterIce HD get launched last season, and it is back this season. This works perfectly fine, but from the beta version, which is one weird modified channel that you have to click into and then select your preferred game, there is no record function. So, what happens to the Seattle-based hockey fan that misses the start of the Central Division game and wants to watch from the beginning? Well, he or she records the game and watches the start in standard definition—an absolute atrocity—until he or she catches up to live action and can then switch to the HD beta.
I will say this… If you have DirecTV, then in my opinion, there’s no contest, because you get all of the good functionality I’m talking about in this section, and believe it or not, all of the channels come in HD. Man, if only cable providers could figure out that incredible technology. Ugh! If you aren’t giving me HD hockey, then at least bring back the FoxTrax Glowpuck.
NHL.tv—$139 for all teams or $109 for one team, purchased online
I first tried NHL.tv back when it was called NHL Gamecenter Live. At the time, streaming services were still relatively new technologies, and the constant lagging and freezing associated were enough to make me jump ship. I’ve recently gotten back on board and have learned that this product is now MUCH better than it used to be… but it’s still not perfect.
On the good side, NHL.tv is perfect for the hockey fan who wants to get rid of cable/satellite, or for someone who travels often. With this product, you can again watch every out-of-market game (meaning there will still be blackouts for games that are on cable in your area… not ideal if you’ve done away with cable), but it must obviously be watched through a computer, tablet, smartphone, or some Roku/AppleTV-type of streaming enabling device.
If you are one of those that is on the road often, being able to keep up with your favorite team through your easily portable devices is a nice benefit, and something that you cannot do with CenterIce. Everything comes through in HD, and assuming you have a good internet connection, the glitches that I came to hate many years ago are very much a thing of the past. Additionally, with NHL.tv, you get access to archived games and condensed games, and there’s a cool little display at the bottom that indicates goals and starts of periods. This allows you to simply click on those and navigate directly to big plays.
For west coast hockey fans with NHL.tv, you can re-start games from the beginning, or just watch them while you’re finishing up your day at the office. This technically should solve my problem of missing the beginning of games, but there’s something that just isn’t quite as good about this functionally as it is on CenterIce and its ability to record games. The fast forwarding isn’t as good or reliable, and maybe I’m just a gimp when it comes to controlling the broadcasts, but I can’t seem to get back to the beginning of the games without seeing the score. There’s no “click here to start from the beginning” button, which would allow you to avoid spoilers, so you have to start the game and try to avert your eyes from any on-screen scoreboards in a stupid little unnecessary dance to get the game back to the beginning. This isn’t a huge deal, but when you’ve been staying off social media all evening to avoid spoilers, turn on the game, and immediately ruin the outcome for yourself, it’s a bit of a downer.
UPDATE: Twitter friend of NHLtoSeattle, Ben Rangel, has a good resolution for the spoiler issue here…
If you have DirecTV, and you plan to watch most of your hockey in the comfort of hour own home, I recommend going the CenterIce route. If not, go NHL.tv, at least until the cable providers fully get it together on the HD front.