CHICAGO (TNS) — The NHL postseason on NBC Sports and cable outlets such as NBCSN offers a chance to check in on Chicago's Eddie Olczyk, who has started in a studio role but is supposed to segue back to doing games.
Olczyk sees the title chase as wide open.
"You can roll an octagon on either side of the conference, putting each team's name on there, and whatever would come up, I wouldn't be surprised to see that matchup" in the final, Olczyk, the Blackhawks announcer and NBC hockey analyst, told reporters this week. "Eight vs. eight, one vs. one, one vs. six _ whatever it is, to me, I think that you have some interesting scenarios.
"You have, obviously, Vegas. You have Winnipeg. You have Nashville. In the Eastern Conference, (there was) the incredible finish with Boston and Tampa. Of course, the Penguins (are) looking for a three-peat going up against their archrivals (the Flyers). ... But for me, I think the one team that I think is really going to be interesting and maybe doesn't get a lot of talk down here, obviously, would be the Winnipeg Jets."
A 1984 Olympian who grew up in the Chicago area, played 16 seasons in the NHL and coached for a time before becoming a top TV hockey analyst, Olczyk may be especially predisposed to see all things as possible.
The last few months have been tumultuous for him, given the news in August that he had colon cancer, the trying treatment regimen he took on and his report last month that doctors found him cancer-free.
"We beat this thing," he told viewers during a Blackhawks telecast three weeks ago, "and I say 'we' because it has been a team effort."
Olczyk is also a horse player, and as such knows long odds sometimes must be viewed as a source of opportunity.
Only last Saturday, while contributing to NBC Sports coverage of some pre-Kentucky Derby horse races, Olczyk cashed a Vino Rosso-Enticed exacta ticket in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct that paid $15.70 for every buck invested.
"To hear Eddie talking about horses this past Saturday and perhaps making a few shekels, making some bets on the horses, was great, great, great theater," said NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood, who has had to contend with the behind-the-scenes drama of not one but two members of his on-air hockey crew fighting cancer.
NBC Sports hockey reporter Pierre McGuire, who had prostate cancer, also has emerged healthy.
"I feel like we've already won the Stanley Cup at NBC because to have the big win that both Eddie and Pierre had this year, to battle through both of their cancer situations and have Eddie back on the team and healthy and cancer-free heading into the playoffs, couldn't be a bigger moment for all of us at NBC," Flood said.
The studio work early is a concession to Olczyk building back his stamina, according to Flood, who has him started in Stamford, Conn. Mike Milbury is taking his place alongside Doc Emerick calling games initially, but the plan is to have Olczyk back in the booth before too long.
"I'll look forward to sitting back next to Doc and getting into the rink with Pierre and doing what I love to do," Olczyk said. "I just think early, it will be picking our spots and then we'll go from there as the series continue.
"Then in early May, I'll have to jump off and ... not that I could ever fit into jockey silks, but I'll have to put my horse racing hat on and head to Churchill Downs. ... But it will be hockey and then horses and then back to the pucks."
Emerick couldn't help but be amused at the thought of Olyzyk, a 6-foot-1 former center, outfitted as a jockey.
"That is a picture," Emerick said with a laugh.
"It's not happening, Doc," Flood said, cutting him off. "It's not happening."
But, as Olczyk himself said, practically anything can this NHL postseason.