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Chicago Blackhawks aim for stability with new broadcast teams

Before every Chicago Blackhawks home game, they show the team’s starting lineup on the large video board.

Hawks fans watching last season from home could use a lineup for the TV booth and studio crew.

Will play-by-play announcer Chris Vosters be joined by Patrick Sharp or Troy Murray?

Would Murray be in the television booth or on the radio with John Wiedeman?

Would Wiedeman be sharing the radio booth with Caley Chelios that night, or would he be in the NBC Sports Chicago studio with Pat Boyle?

You can find Colby Cohen in the studio, among the benches, or occasionally in the booth. Did he claim mileage on his legs?

Former Hawks goaltender Scott Darling may have occupied the same chair in the studio, but his on-air role was a moving target.

No local TV series is the same for all local broadcasts, but even the Hawks and their cast members admit they struggle for continuity and chemistry, so the changes they made in the offseason amount to more than just a few tweaks.

Sharp took Front office job at Philadelphia FlyersThe Hawks hired former Blues analyst Darren Pang to replace him.

Cohen returned to the Philadelphia area and Darling’s role in the pre- and post-game show was turned down.

Former Hawks enforcer John Scott, who hosts a hockey podcast, leads a new group of guest analysts, including Hawks greats Chris Chelios and Denis Savard and former NHL player and coach Tony Granato. Other alumni or celebrities may also attend.

Boyle’s “Blackhawks Talk Podcast” partner, Charlie Roumeliotis, will be in the studio periodically as he did last season, offering the same game and locker room insights.

Caley Chelios, Chris’ daughter and a former Tampa Bay Lightning radio analyst, will replace Pang while on spot duty on national broadcasts or on radio. But otherwise, the studio host, entering his 12th season, is locked in as Boyle’s main analyst and partner; Chelios, the third.

“I think one of the things we learned was to create stability and predictability in our booth,” Hawks Chairman and CEO Danny Wirtz told the Tribune. “So those two (Boyle and Caley Chelios) and we might add a third to spice up some games or if it’s a special night we’ll do that. But the core is now the core, which is great.”

“The Hawks are a huge team and there will be a lot of eyes on them, especially this year (with Connor Bedard),” Scott said.

Boyle echoed Wirtz’s sentiments.

“My guess is everyone wanted to bring some stability and consistency to the product,” he said.

The Hawks and Bulls’ partnership with NBC Sports Chicago is ending after this season, which means the casting is over, too.

Boyle heard some of the criticism directed at the studio and the in-game stream, and while most of it wasn’t directed at him, he took it personally.

He took an active role in assembling the new roster for “Blackhawks Pregame/Postgame Live” this summer and recommended Scott.

“I was sitting there one night thinking about our future and how we were going to get better as a studio show — because I’m competitive, too,” Boyle said. “We won an Emmy on this show, and I want to put out the best product possible.”

Boyle doesn’t want someone on the show trying to be Paul Bissonette – unless that’s their personality – and making it seem forced. But there are other ways to strengthen the show.

“The one thing I understand when I watch TNT’s NBA show and NHL show is personality-driven,” he said. “He reacts on social media and shows a tweet: ‘This is what (Wayne) Gretzky said’ ‘This is what Gretzky tweeted about Connor Bedard’s first goal.’

“That’s what we want to do and engage with fans that way, but also teach and tell the players’ stories along the way. … We follow the ultimate reality show, and that’s sports. You never know what’s going to happen on a given night.”

Boyle thinks Scott can bring many of those elements, especially the humor.

“When I listened to his podcast, I felt like he seemed really chatty, funny, and didn’t take himself too seriously,” Boyle said. “You can tell he has a passion for the game.”

After some screen testing, Hawks and NBC felt Boyle and Scott had great chemistry on camera.

“We’re testing everyone for the studio right now,” said Jaime Faulkner, Hawks’ president of business operations. “So we get you to sit down and play a studio game with Pat Boyle or Caley. So I kept asking everyone, ‘Hey, are we seeing chemistry?’ We are testing. Does this work? ‘Are these natural?’

“So we did a lot more work at NBC this year to determine who should actually be there and in what role.”

Faulkner has said on more than one occasion that Darling wasn’t in the best position to succeed last season.

“We talked a lot about Scott (Darling) last year. “Unfortunately we wanted him to be in one role but because of what was going on he had to do things we didn’t want him to do,” he said. “We changed the process this year, but we worked on it over the summer to determine that.”

Boyle believes Scott can hit the ground running thanks to the legwork he’s already been doing for his podcast, setting him apart from other prospects during this offseason search.

“You can’t just say, ‘I’m so talkative, you know it’s hockey.’ Let’s do it,’” Boyle said. “You need to do some work on this.

“And he seems like the kind of person who is willing to go the extra mile, put in the time and effort, watch games, go for a morning skate and chat with a coach or player.”

Scott added, “I follow every team, right? And you follow every player, every team, every prospect pool, and it’s just too much.

“I talked about hockey every day on my show. This isn’t something where I step in and try to figure out what’s going on in the league. What’s going on with the Hawks? I do like that too.”

Viewers should expect a few new wrinkles from the game and studio shows.

Pre- and post-game shows will be broadcast more frequently from the suite at the United Center.

Viewers got a taste of this when the NBC Sports Chicago panel interviewed Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson.

“I would like to be on the track,” said Scott, who estimates he will play in 30 to 40 games. “Watching the game live is much better.”

Chicago Tribune Sports

Mid-week

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NBC Sports Chicago will host a pre- and post-game show for Tuesday’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the game will air on ESPN.

NBC Sports Chicago will broadcast the first game on Saturday when the Hawks play the Canadiens in Montreal.

In his Blues role, Pang was known for joking with coaches while conducting interviews between the benches, and he will eventually do the same for the Hawks.

“He will start the season with Chris (Vosters) in the upstairs booth,” Faulkner said. “And as the season progresses and they start to build chemistry, he’ll probably call the game off the bench.”

Boyle hopes fans welcome the changes next season.

“I want to be entertaining, I want to be informative,” he said. “I’ve been a sports reporter in Chicago for 19 years and I’m really proud of it.

“And like any other team that’s trying to improve and get better, the Blackhawks studio TV team is trying to get better. “That’s how it started and hopefully we can take another step in the right direction.”

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