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NHL on CBS is a former television program that broadcast National Hockey League games on CBS Sports. CBS was the first American television network to broadcast NHL games.




1956–1960 version

CBS first broadcast National Hockey League games for four seasons from 19561960. CBS aired games on Saturday afternoons with Bud Palmer and Fred Cusick handling the announcing duties, initially. Palmer served as the play-by-play man while Cusick did color commentary as well as interviews for the first three seasons. In 1959–60, Cusick moved over to play-by-play while Brian McFarlane came in to do the color commentary and interviews. The pregame and intermission interviews were done on the ice, with the interviewer on skates. No playoff games were televised during this period and all broadcasts took place in one of the four American arenas at the time.

As previously mentioned, CBS covered the 1956–57 season on Saturday afternoons, starting January 5[1]. For the next three years, they aired continued airing games a Saturday afternoons starting on November 2, 1957, October 18, 1958 and January 9, 1960.

According to the 1991 book Net Worth: Exploding the Myths of Pro Hockey, during the 1956-57 season, CBS broadcast 10 games that were popular with viewers. The four American franchises at the time (the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, and New York Rangers) each received $100,000. However, the players themselves, received absolutely zero money from the TV deal. One CBS employee said, "We got a call from a girl in Cincinnati who wanted to start a women's hockey league. We referred her to NHL president Clarence Campbell, who told her hockey was too rough for gals."

Furthermore, according to Sports Illustrated[2], the NHL dropped CBS because the NHL owners didn't want the fledgling Players' Association to gain a financial cut of the TV deal. This was despite the fact that CBS was at least at one point, getting better ratings than NBC's NBA package from around the same period.

In 1963, CBS offered to broadcast a NHL Game of the Week on Saturdays during the National Football League season. By the winter, CBS would move the Game of the Week to Sundays in the same time slot. Ultimately, the NHL rejected the idea, saying it would cause too many schedule and travel problems.


Date Teams
10/18/58 Detroit @ Chicago
10/25/58 Chicago @ New York
11/1/58 Detroit @ Boston
11/8/58 Chicago @ Detroit
11/15/58 Montreal @ Chicago
11/22/58 Detroit @ Boston
11/29/58 Boston @ New York
12/6/58 Detroit @ Chicago
1/3/59 Boston @ Detroit
1/10/59 Detroit @ New York
1/17/59 New York @ Chicago
1/24/59 Chicago @ Detroit
1/31/59 Detroit @ Boston
2/7/59 Chicago @ New York
2/14/59 Montreal @ Boston
2/21/59 Chicago @ Detroit
2/28/59 Boston @ Chicago
3/7/59 New York @ Chicago
3/14/59 Detroit @ Boston
3/21/59 New York @ Detroit

The Toronto Maple Leafs didn't appear on the schedule because they played at home every Saturday night during the season.

1967–1972 version


For six seasons, from 1967 through 1972, CBS aired a game each week between mid-January until early-mid May in each of those seasons, mainly on a Sunday afternoon[3], including playoffs[4]. From 1968–69[5] through 1971–72, the intermission studio was called "CBS Control", just like with their NFL coverage.

CBS started their weekly 1967–68 coverage with the opening game (the Philadelphia Flyers vs. Los Angeles Kings) at the Forum in Inglewood, California on December 30. Then after two more Saturday afternoons, CBS switched to Sunday afternoons beginning on January 28 for the next 10 weeks. Due to an AFTRA strike (which resulted in the cancellation of a New York Rangers-Montreal broadcast), CBS started their playoff coverage with a CBC tape of the previous night's Boston-Montreal game. On April 13, CBS started their three week long weekend afternoon Stanley Cup coverage. The last game of the series was St. Louis-Montreal on May 11. For the playoffs, Jim Gordon worked play-by-play and Stu Nahan worked color. During the regular season, Gordon and Nahan alternated roles each week. For instance, Gordon did the worked play-by-play on December 30 while Nahan worked play-by-play the next week.

In the 1968–69 season, CBS broadcast 13 regular season afternoon games and five Stanley Cup playoff games. Dan Kelly[6] did play-by-play while Bill Mazer did color and intermission interviews.

The same pattern continued through the 1971–72 season. CBS did manage to televise the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals clincher on a Tuesday night and the 1972 Stanley Cup Finals clincher on a Thursday night. In 1971, CBS was not scheduled to broadcast Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, but showed the prime time contest between the Montreal Canadiens and Chicago Black Hawks almost as a public service. Ironically, the game was not telecast by the Chicago CBS affiliate WBBM-TV due to Blackhawk's owner Arthur M. Wirtz policy of not telecasting home games. While Dan Kelly once again handled all of the play-by-play work, Jim Gordon replaced Bill Mazer in 1970–71. For the CBS' Stanley Cup Finals coverage during this period, a third voice was added to the booth (Phil Esposito in 1971 and Harry Howell in 1972).

One trivial note however, on January 23, 1972, Jim Gordon was not in Boston for the Buffalo-Boston game. Therefore, Dick Stockton filled-in and did the game with Dan Kelly.

In relation to the 1967 NHL expansion

CBS' next go around with the NHL came at just about the time when the NHL's Original Six franchises were to be joined by the league's first expansion class of 1967.

Although, the San Francisco Bay Area was not considered a particularly good hockey market, the terms of a new television agreement with CBS called for two of the expansion teams to be located in California. Hence, the California Seals[7] and Los Angeles Kings joined the National Hockey League at the behest of CBS. (The Seals were renamed the Oakland Seals during their first season and then were rechristened the California Golden Seals when purchased by Charlie O. Finley in 1970.)

CBS was hoping that they would grow with the NHL by persuading them to go coast-to-coast (Montreal to Los Angeles) in a similar fashion for which they had grown with the National Football League (beginning in 1956).

Memorable moments

Perhaps, the most memorable moment came on Mother's Day of 1970 (May 10), when Bobby Orr's[8] winning goal in overtime of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals[9] gave his Boston Bruins their first Stanley Cup Championship since 1941, as they swept the St. Louis Blues at the old Boston Garden. Immediately upon scoring, Orr caught his skate in the defenceman's stick and was sent flying onto the ice. The "flight" was captured by a news photographer and is one of the iconic images in the history of sports.

As part of The CBS Sports Spectacular (1979-1980)

1979 Challenge Cup

1979's Challenge Cup replaced the All-Star Game. It was a best of three series between the NHL All-Stars against the Soviet Union national squad. In the United States, Game 2, which was on a Saturday afternoon, was shown on CBS as part of The CBS Sports Spectacular[10]. The network, the show, and their sponsors had a problem with the rink board advertising that the NHL sold at Madison Square Garden, and refused to allow them to be shown on TV. As a result, CBS viewers were unable to see the far boards above the yellow kickplate, and could only see players skates when the play moved to that side of the ice. Games 1 and 3 were shown on the NHL Network, where the advertising was no problem.

1980 Stanley Cup Finals

After the NHL left CBS in 1972, the network would only air one other NHL game. That would take place on Saturday, May 24, 1980[11], with Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Islanders[12]. The game was won in overtime by the host Islanders, who captured their first of their four consecutive Stanley Cups.

Except for the New York and Philadelphia affiliates, CBS dropped the telecast and went to The CBS Sports Spectacular as scheduled.

By that time, Dan Kelly[13] was joined by former NHL on NBC commentator, Tim Ryan. Dan Kelly did play-by-play for the first and third periods as well as overtime. Meanwhile, Tim Ryan did play-by-play only for the second period. Minnesota North Stars GM Lou Nanne was the color commentator throughout the game.

However, that turned out to be the last NHL game (to this date) to be televised on CBS. It was also the last NHL game on American network television until NBC televised the 1990 All-Star Game[14].

Game 6 pulled a 4.4 rating[15] on CBS.

Failed 1994-95 bid

CBS was in the running for gaining National Hockey League rights beginning in the 1994–95 season only to be outbid by Fox.[16]


  1. ^ [ January 5, 1957— CBS televises the first network hockey game and introduced “Peter Puck” to audiences. The NY Rangers defeated Chicago 4-1.]
  2. ^ The Hockey Rebellion
  3. ^ So seeing the game popularized, catching on in the other America, CBS paying the NHL a million dollars for the rights to the Sunday-afternoon game of the week, Bobby Orr making the cover of U.S. magazines, Derek Sanderson in Life, Esquire and The New Yorker, hockey books proliferating—well, we are pleased, we are flattered, yes, yes.
  4. ^ CBS-TV once again will televise nationally a schedule of regular-season and playoff games under the terms of a three-year, $3 million contract signed with the NHL two years ago.
  5. ^ MacPhail spends $40 million a year to put sports programs on his network. Included in the events CBS presents are the full NFL schedule, the Masters, horse racing's Triple Crown, CBS Golf Classic, the Cotton and Sun Bowls, the NIT basketball tournament, AAU track (both a financial and esthetic disaster this year) and NHL hockey (which lost 750,000 CBS dollars last season).
  6. ^ Canadian-born Kelly, who does the Blues games for the station, called CBS' NHL Game of the Week until the network dropped hockey in 1972.
  7. ^ The purchase price: better than $4.5 million. Bill Creasy, former producer of CBS' Game of the Week, becomes president and will represent the Seals on the NHL's board of governors.
  8. ^ Bobby Orr may, in fact, be the only reason why the NHL still has a national television contract. Although ratings went up 33% last year, the hockey telecasts, for the rights to which CBS paid less than a million, still failed to make a profit. '"We've lost money every year," said a CBS executive, "but maybe with this kid Orr playing like he is we'll be able to break even or maybe make a little."
  9. ^ May 10, 1970 CBS Sports broadcasts the Stanley Cup finals as Boston Bruins phenom Bobby Orr flies through the air after scoring the winning goal against the St. Louis Blues.
  10. ^ Promotion was nil, and U.S. network interest was limited to a quick showing of highlights on the CBS Sports Spectacular—heavily edited to blot out the advertising on the boards.
  11. ^ May 24, 1980 CBS Sports broadcasts the New York Islanders' Stanley Cup victory over the Philadelphia Flyers.
  12. ^ The NHL also continues to toil without a national television contract. CBS did televise the New York Islanders' 5-4 overtime defeat of the Philadelphia Flyers in the sixth and decisive game of the Stanley Cup finals, but the results were embarrassing: while an early-season baseball game between the Dodgers and the Cubs was grabbing a 26% share of the audience on NBC, the NHL showdown claimed only 17%, more than one-fifth of which was in New York City. In other NHL cities, the Stanley Cup game drew audience shares as small as 6%, and interest elsewhere was practically nonexistent.
  13. ^ He called hockey's ``game of the week when CBS still covered the sport. He also called hockey's last network game, with Tim Ryan, in 1980, the New York Islanders' overtime victory against the Philadelphia Flyers for the Stanley Cup.
  14. ^ The game was carried live on ABC, the first time an NHL game other than an All-Star game has been shown on network television since May 24, 1980, when CBS carried Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
  15. ^ On June 7, NBC televised Game 1 of the NBA Finals and earned a 10.5 rating in the Nielsens. One night later ABC aired Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals, a triple-overtime duel for the ages in which the Stars defeated the Devils 1-0. That match earned a 4.2. That was the highest national rating a hockey game had received since 1980, when the Cup-deciding Flyers-Islanders Game 6 pulled a 4.4 on CBS.
  16. ^ Sandomir, Richard (1994-09-10). "Fox Outbids CBS for N.H.L. Games". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-20.  

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