The good news is that a year after a shakeup of the National Hockey League TV schedule caused by Rogers’ $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal, there are few significant changes to how hockey fans get access to their games in 2015-16.
The bad news is also that little has changed.
Local fans who want to watch all 82 regular-season Canadiens games in 2015-16 will need at least five TV channels in English and two in French — and possibly more. And fans west of eastern Ontario once again have to deal with regional blackouts unless they shell out for an expensive premium sports package.
Plus, if you’re a fan in Quebec who wants to watch games online, it’s even more complicated.
We’ll try our best to explain.
TV rights to NHL games are broken down into national vs. regional. National rights, sold by the league, include the rights to broadcast Saturday night games, all playoff games and marquee events like the NHL Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game across the country. Rogers bought those rights and resold the French-language rights to TVA Sports. Regional games, which make up the bulk of the regular season, are sold by individual teams and must be blacked out to viewers outside their region. RDS bought the French-language regional rights to Canadiens and Senators games, and Rogers and TSN bought the regional rights to the seven Canadian teams (Rogers has the Canadiens, Canucks, Oilers and Flames, TSN has the Senators and Jets, and the two split the Leafs).
Since Rogers has both the national and regional rights to Canadiens games, it will be broadcasting all 82 regular-season games — 40 nationally and 42 regionally — and all playoff games, the same as last year. In French, TVA Sports has 22 Canadiens games — the season opener on Wednesday, 20 Saturday night games and the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 — plus playoffs. The other 60 games (and all preseason games) are on RDS, but they’re restricted to the Canadiens’ broadcast region, which consists of eastern Ontario and all of Quebec and Atlantic Canada.
Once again, this means that 18 games — mostly Wednesday and Sunday nights — will be available nationally in English but not in French, which apparently makes sense somehow.
The only big change to how Rogers is broadcasting the games in English is that the Sunday night Hometown Hockey games will be broadcast on Sportsnet instead of City TV. City picked up most of Fox’s Sunday night comedy lineup. Otherwise it’s the same: Wednesday nights nationally on Sportsnet, Saturday nights nationally on CBC, City, Sportsnet, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360 or FX Canada (the latter reserved for U.S.-only matchups), and most other games regionally on Sportsnet East. (City Montreal is used for regional games when Sportsnet has other programming, such as baseball playoffs or Thursday night NFL games.)
Saturday night lineups are decided on a week-by-week basis, but expect them to be similar to last year when most Saturdays saw the Toronto Maple Leafs on CBC, the Canadiens on City, and the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets relegated to Sportsnet channels, except when a higher-priority team isn’t playing or the Canadian teams are playing each other.
So far, only one Canadiens game is scheduled for Sportsnet 360 and two on Sportsnet One (due to conflicts with football and baseball), but that could change if there are more schedule conflicts later in the season. And though RDS has scheduled all 60 of its games on the main channel, and the CH is undoubtedly its top priority, it moved one game to RDS2 last October to put a potential World Series-clinching baseball game on RDS. (Amazingly, some people argued that a World Series win should be less of a priority than an early-season regional Canadiens game.) TVA Sports is unlikely to move any of its Canadiens games to its secondary channel.
Like last year, RDS will offer a pregame show and post-game Antichambre on Saturday nights even though it’s not airing the games.
If you’re listening on the radio, it’s very simple: All games are in English on TSN Radio 690 and in French on 98.5 FM.
But if you want to watch Canadiens games online, you’re probably out of luck even if you subscribe to all the channels and you shell out $200 a season for NHL GameCentre Live.
That GCL streaming service offers all the national games in English without a problem, but to watch in-region games, or any games in French, you need to authenticate with your TV provider to prove that you subscribe to the channel that’s broadcasting it. And because Canada’s big media and telecom companies aren’t very good at co-operating, that’s not always possible.
Of Quebec’s TV providers, only Vidéotron allows GCL authentication, and only for TVA Sports.
Fortunately, Sportsnet, TSN, RDS and TVA Sports also have their own mobile apps that you can watch games through without needing a GCL subscription. Unfortunately, the Sportsnet app works with Rogers Cable, Cogeco and Shaw but not Bell or Vidéotron. The RDS app works with Bell but not Vidéotron, Cogeco or Shaw. And the TVA Sports app works with Vidéotron, Cogeco and Telus but not Bell or Shaw.
With these kinds of hoops to jump through no matter how much money you’re willing to spend, it’s no wonder so many people watch the games through bootlegged streams online.
To help you know which channel the Canadiens games are on, we’ve created a printable two-page schedule of the 82 regular-season games. This schedule is designed for people who live in the Canadiens’ broadcast region (in blue below).
If you live in Toronto, northern Ontario or western Canada (everything in red above), see this story for information on how to watch the Canadiens and download a printable schedule designed for you.