While the NHL's p.r. bandleaders have spent recent years doggedly attempting to jack up media coverage of the league and then grumbling at the spotty results, the folks at nhl.com have quietly thrived. "The undercoverage [in other media] has been a blessing in disguise," says Rich Libero, the league vice president who runs the site. "When fans can't find what they want in their newspaper or on the sports highlights, they come to us."
Since its 1996 debut, nhl.com's traffic has increased steadily to its current 30 million page users a month. What those viewers get is a respectable, text-heavy site that's worth a stop on a hockey lover's Internet tour but is hardly the be-all and end-all that NHL fans would like it to be. The site's crown jewel is its stats package. The creative and easy-to-use series of pages breaks down each player's performance into 13 statistical categories, including such hard-to-find figures as number of shifts, hits, giveaways and takeaways, and ice time. Team achievement is dissected in similar detail, and all stats are updated to the minute by computer-toting employees who input data from every NHL game as the match unfolds.
The site also offers home-and visiting-team radio broadcasts of all games, a feature that helps draw in nhl.com's sizable overseas audience. Some 15% of the regular users visit from outside North America, primarily from Europe.
All this is accessible through a graphically uninspiring main page built around articles on breaking NHL news. The information is timely but yields little substance or perspective. "We try not to be a propaganda machine," says Libero. "Love us or hate us—we're pretty sure that if we don't give fans the straight poop, they're going to go somewhere else."
Many do. Not surprisingly, news reported by the league's team of writers and editors invariably comes through a roseate screen. In a piece looking back on the career of Sharks defenseman Gary Suter, for example, there was no mention of his notorious 1998 cross-check to the jaw of Mighty Ducks left wing Paul Kariya—a dirty blow that cost Kariya nearly half a season because of post-concussion syndrome.
If you're a savvy hockey fan, you won't always get what you want on nhl.com, but if you're looking for stats or an injury report or a roster move, you should get what you need.