After 15 years as the lead color commentator for NBC Sports’ coverage of the National Hockey League — including the Stanley Cup Final — Eddie Olczyk will be calling his first Final as a member of TNT, which will also be televising the event for the first time.
Front Office Sports spoke with Olczyk on the intriguing matchup between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights, the atmosphere of the “NHL on TNT,” and the changing landscape of sports television.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What does this matchup between two expansion franchises mean for the league right now?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-seed or an eight-seed, or you’re in an Original Six market or you’re in one of the new markets of the National Hockey League. If you build correctly and draft well, you’re going to get the support. I think it’s just great for the league that you have some so-called non-traditional markets that are getting the recognition and the headlines that they deserve.
This will be my 16th Stanley Cup Final on national television, and some of the best Finals that we’ve had haven’t been the so-called traditional markets or teams. If you’re a hockey fan, you know you’re going to be entertained regardless of what the matchup is.
The way that both teams play is just so appealing because both teams have the ability to be physical. They are both bigger teams. They do have some heaviness to their team. They have some characters on each team and they have some world-class players.
So, it’s got a chance to be an unbelievable series. I would anticipate it being a long series. When teams are close or teams can really defend well — and that’s something that Vegas can do really well — you’re going to be in every hockey game that you can defend.
And if you’re Florida and you’re getting goaltending like you are with [Sergei] Bobrovsky, you’re going to be in every game as well. So it is very, very close. And when you’re the last two, two standing, you just never know when the tide or the momentum will swing in your favor.
You’ve called 16 Stanley Cup Finals as the lead color analyst, but this is your first one with TNT since the switch from NBC. How do you expect it to be different with TNT, if at all?
We’ve got hockey people at every level. The production part of it and the repetition of working with the same crew is so important. The cadence and understanding of where the announcers are going or how they’re talking or their inflection of voice, and those types of things.
I just think we’re super proud that this is the first professional championship that’s going to be on our airwaves in any of the four sports. There’s incredible pressure, but there’s incredible pride to be the first. We do the games a certain way and we’re going to try to tell those stories and have opinions. We have a lot of characters with character. We want to make it fun and sell what we think is the greatest game in the world.
Having done so many Cup Finals, there’s such a high, and then when the game is over, it’s a major crash because you’re just so hyped. My philosophy is to tell the story, not be the story. You can have opinions and people are going to disagree. Some fans are going to like what you say, some are not, and that’s okay. But we’re there to tell the story between the two teams and the long journey of the Stanley Cup.
I think there’s just been great excitement all season knowing that this is our first opportunity and we’re going to be on center stage. We’re going to do the same job and hopefully all of us will elevate our game, but still be consistent and tell those stories. Doesn’t matter what the names are on the back of the sweaters or what the teams are, we’re going to put on a show and hopefully people will walk away or skate away and say, “You know what, that was entertaining.”
How has TNT been treating hockey since it started a couple years ago?
It’s been open arms. When I was being courted by them and heard what their vision was, I joined without hesitation. Everything is absolutely first class: the people that we work around, our bosses, how we’re treated. It’s been an unbelievable team to become a part of from day one. When you work around great people that are as talented as a lot of the people that we have both in front and behind the camera it’s super fun to go to work and promote these games and promote our brand.
I didn’t work the Cup Final last year for the first time in 15 years, so I put my feet up, and I was a fan. My buddy Ray [Ferraro] was doing the games with Sean McDonough and ESPN, and I was able to watch and enjoy the National Hockey League. It’s been my life and it is my life, so I got to see it from a different vantage point.
I just think that excitement level increases to be a part of it when — and I mean this wholeheartedly — you really enjoy and love the people you work with. I get a chance to work with Kenny [Albert] and Jonesy [Keith Jones] every night pretty much for the last couple of years, and there’s a trust factor there. That’s really important, I think, of any team, let alone our broadcast team. I’m very lucky to be on the line with Kenny and Jonesy. We’re going to try to do our best and have that humility that people appreciate.
Cable has been around for decades, but has never really been trusted to bring in the type of audience that a traditional network could have. What does it mean to be part of this moment in sports TV?
When you look at the 30,000-foot view on that, I think there’s a great responsibility to it. The world of television is changing and it hit hard in the National Hockey League this year with a lot of the regional sports networks and everything that’s going on. But all we can do is, regardless of the outlet, go out there and represent Warner Brothers and TNT to the best of our ability. And at the end of the day, we are representing the league.
We take great pride in and look forward to being the people that grab that baton for the first time and put on a great show. It’s going to be two teams that realize that all they gotta do is win four games and win the Stanley Cup. So it’s going to be entertaining regardless.
All I can speak to is hockey, but whatever outlet there is for us to have more eyes on us, however that is, I think that’s great for everybody. I think that’s great for the business.