Trouble for Hockey Night in Canada?

Jonathan Willis
March 11 2012 09:26AM

An interesting article appeared in the Globe and Mail yesterday, an article that suggested Hockey Night in Canada’s problems with the NHL go well beyond the Don Cherry/Brian Burke feud.

According to Bruce Dowbiggin, the trouble goes back to that Board of Governors meeting in Ottawa during the all-star weekend, and the specific complaints are not surprising. Let’s go through a few of them.

Burke delivered a blistering critique of [Hockey Night in Canada’s treatment of him and then-coach Ron Wilson.

This isn’t news; we’ve known about the Cherry/Burke problems going back to that point of the season. CBC has a unique arrangement with Toronto – most rights-holders act to build up rather than to tear down the team they cover (Sportsnet in particular takes great pains to cast the teams it covers regionally in a favorable light) – but Cherry says (more or less) what he wants to, and he’s been hammering away on Burke/Wilson for a long time.

But while Toronto isn’t happy, other teams are dissatisfied for a familiar reason: they’re sick of Toronto games.

Other Canadian teams, including the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators, blasted the network for the Toronto-centric nature of the program…

If you’re a non-Maple Leafs fan, the odds are good that you’ve complained about the number of Leafs games on HNIC. It’s understandable – the Leafs are the biggest television draw on a national level – but also understandable is the frustration felt by fans. The frustration for teams must be even higher, though – HNIC is a rare opportunity for teams to build a market nationally, and Toronto gets the bulk of those opportunities. Given the Leafs’ status the last few years as a non-playoff team while other clubs have had success, it must be grating for a competent team like Vancouver to see the bulk of the editorial attention going the way of the Maple Leafs.

Other Canadian teams, including the Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators… complained about deteriorating journalistic standards.

From a personal perspective, this is the big one. It really feels like one of the things that disappeared with the ‘New NHL’ post-lockout was CBC’s place as Canada’s hockey leader. To be sure, there are still strong points – the Hughson/Simpson tandem do a good job calling games, Scott Oake is the same as he ever was, and Elliotte Friedman is one of the better commentators around – but it’s difficult not to look at the current state of the program and not finding it lacking in comparison to how it used to be.

The loss of Chris Cuthbert to TSN during the lockout was huge; a good play-by-play man can cover for a lot of colour guy sins and CBC hasn’t had a strong option for the later game since Hughson was promoted to the early game (which is probably a better fit for Hughson anyway, given his perceived sympathy to the Canucks after years of covering them for Sportsnet). Don Cherry’s gradual slide into incoherence is another major problem; as Ellen Etchingham noted in her brilliant piece on the man, eventually “broadcast quality will do what years of protest letters couldn’t: force Don Cherry into retirement.” CBC lacks a natural candidate to take his place; there simply isn’t a commentator around with the same force of personality as Cherry.

Finally, despite the clout that HNIC should have as an institution, it finds itself rapidly falling behind TSN in terms of its ability to break and discuss news.

The league’s current deal with CBC ends in 2014.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Clarkenstein
March 11 2012, 09:30AM
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I like Grapes but Ron McLean is a square peg in a round hole.

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#2 Jon
March 11 2012, 09:47AM
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"Elliotte Friedman is one of the better commentators around"

Seriously? That guys sucks.

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#3 Magnetman
March 11 2012, 09:51AM
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HNIC is good for one thing....every Saturday night I know that at least one of my favorite teams is playing on TV......The Edmonton Oilers or my other favorite two teams.....whoever is playing the Leafs or whoever is playing the Flames. A Calgary Toronto game = movie night.

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#4 Starving Student
March 11 2012, 09:53AM
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Unless the Oilers are on, I pretty much don't care for HNIC. They let the hockey theme go a few years back and I can't really stand the new song. Used to love Grapes, now he just seems like a rambling senile old man. And when the Oilers DO play the late game, it's absolutely dreadful listening to Kevin Weekes call games... With the loss of Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison, the only thing I find redeeming at this point is Elliot Friedman, who will probably end up on TSN or Sportsnet.

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#5 Stack Pad Save
March 11 2012, 09:54AM
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Grapes is one of the best of all time! CBC needs more of Don and less of Hrudey. IMO I cannot stand Eliotte Friedmann, when the guy talks you can tell he has never played the game and has little to no understanding of it.

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#6 Homie
March 11 2012, 09:56AM
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Anyone get the feeling that Burke is angling for Cherry's job?

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#7 SouthNisku
March 11 2012, 09:56AM
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Dear Vancouver: please stop whining about how everyone is mean to you.

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#8 Archaeologuy
March 11 2012, 09:57AM
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HNIC is the old Oak tree. Once a symbol of power and stability, now hollow and only a shell of it's former self.

I like Don, I like that he says what he wants. I could live with him doing his thing for as long as he wants. That said, stop Weekes on the late game. I don't even think he knows what he's doing out there. Last year the late game wasnt even in HD. The camera angles aren't even done well anymore.

And screw Toronto. I get it, but screw them.

I kind of figured the HNIC ship was sinking when they couldn't even retain the rights to their own Theme Music because they didn't want to pay the lady who owns it what was rightfully hers. Bad form.

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#9 magisterrex
March 11 2012, 10:00AM
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I think you hit the nail on the head, Jonathan. CBC's biggest problem is the lack of on-air talent, both up-and-coming and current. What "talent" they have is either boring or so full of Homerism that they're too painful to listen to, and there is no push from below for the current teams to feel the pressure of younger blood looking to make a name for themselves on the program. Case in point, I've always liked Don Cherry, but where is his replacement? Mad Mike?

It's shameful that a national institution such as Hockey Night in Canada has regressed to this point. I think when they did not pony up the cash to keep the original music was the start of the end for this once-proud broadcast franchise. Get out your forks; soon it will be time to stick them in Hockey Night in Canada.

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#10 schevvy
March 11 2012, 10:03AM
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I have a feeling after 2014, CTV may take over from CBC for the HNIC games. Put Gord Miller/Ray Ferraro on th early game and then Chris Cuthbert/Mike Johnson on the late game. TSN's intermission line-up is already top-notch, and they could hire some old CBC guys like Hughson and or Simpson to shore up the broadcast quality.

The only thing that might prevent this is CTV's reluctance to do the playoffs every night for two months. They have a sold line-up of American reality shows that they might not want to give up on for that substantial period of time.

The reason I say CTV over TSN is because I think the NHL would want it on a channel everyone (?) gets, rather than a specialty channel like TSN.

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#11 pelhem grenville
March 11 2012, 10:06AM
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...there IS a candidate to replace Cherry

...Doug MacLean @ Sportsnet...the guy is a beauty, a former head coach that went to a SC Final (Lost) and is as 'folksy' and 'non-confrontational' as anyone...and a PEI native that is as Canadian as Cherry ever was ... Don Cherry will make only a few more gaffs until CBC will take him off the air citing political differences with management and the wider Toronto fan base...Don Cherry needs to step aside and make room for MacLean & MacLean ...

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#12 Craig1981
March 11 2012, 10:11AM
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Still miss the song. :(

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#13 SteadyEd
March 11 2012, 10:17AM
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Losing HNIC would be terrible. It's way more than a sports broadcast- It's a part of our National Heritage. To use (twist) a Burkism, CBC 'is a lamp-post that holds up the drunks.' TSN and Sportsnet are plastic facsimiles of an original cast. Saturday night is HNIC in my house. Always will be.

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#14 SteadyEd
March 11 2012, 10:19AM
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@pelhem grenville

Awesome idea.

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#15 pelhem grenville
March 11 2012, 10:22AM
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Craig1981 wrote:

Still miss the song. :(

Craig1981 ...y'mean the little diddy they play the crap out of over at CTV now ? that one?

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#16 pelhem grenville
March 11 2012, 10:25AM
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SteadyEd wrote:

Awesome idea.

...shucks Ed thanks but it's not awesome,

it's just an idea

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#17 Dipstick
March 11 2012, 10:31AM
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The only problem that I have with the CBC is that my tax dollars are supporting it.

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#18 Dutchscooter
March 11 2012, 10:33AM
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Yes, only on a publicly-funded network would Kevin Weeks still have a job. And being out west we get beaten over the head with this goalie-centric has-been.

I understand his bias. It's human nature to be biased. But I think I would be more sympathetic if he was any good as a pro goalie. He was a fringe NHLer and he's a fringe color-commentator. And we see him every Saturday. (Yay)

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#19 Rob...
March 11 2012, 10:45AM
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I used to complain quite a bit about the entitlement of the Leafs and the ridiculous support of the CBC. But I can now watch every single Oilers game, spread across multiple channel without paying any more for cable/satellite than normal. Screw the CBC. Screw the Leafs. I really don't care anymore.

Despite that, I still love the article, and only wish you could have tied the Canadian tax dollar into it somehow, Willis.

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#20 Gordie
March 11 2012, 10:53AM
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How stupid are the other commenters? "CBC should have paid up for the Hockey Song rights." Dipstick brings up a salient point, and the ONLY point that matters. The CBC is propped up by tax dollars. $1.1 Billion dollar bailouts annually. I will always enjoy and respect the tradition behind Hockey Night In Canada, but it has gotten to the point where it is the only watchable show on the network. I'm not overly political, but I work in the oil patch like most Albertans and hold relatively conservative values. To see the absolute leftist and pro Eastern Canada coverage by a tax-funded organization is an abomination.

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#21 Goalie Dad
March 11 2012, 10:56AM
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Maybe CBC can have a PPV. Don Cherry and K Lowe vs Brian Burke and a partner of his choice. No holds barred. The losing team to retire from the hockey business. Being so conditioned to a good loss we might even hope for a double disqualification.

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#22 Jon
March 11 2012, 10:58AM
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@pelhem grenville

Doug MacLean is also awful. Sportsnet literally has the worst on-air talent in all of Canada. Treehouse TV has them beat. TSN kills it, half of CBC is great, the other half have pictures of CBC execs and goats doing dirty things. Grapes is an institution. If you don't like him, don't watch. It's pretty easy to avoid, but you all tune in, even if you hate him.

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#23 kittensandcookies
March 11 2012, 11:04AM
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Friedman actually is quite good. Listen to him when he's on the FAN, he's very informed.

No way does CBC give up HNIC. It's usually the top rated show on TV in Canada.

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#24 Jeff Lebowski
March 11 2012, 11:10AM
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I love lamp.

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#25 Paq Twinn
March 11 2012, 11:32AM
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kittensandcookies wrote:

Friedman actually is quite good. Listen to him when he's on the FAN, he's very informed.

No way does CBC give up HNIC. It's usually the top rated show on TV in Canada.

It's not like CBC has a choice. If the NHL doesn't want them back, then they won't be back.

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#26 Paq Twinn
March 11 2012, 11:34AM
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@Jon

I stopped watching Don 10 years ago. Best decision of my life. #Fact

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#27 Paq Twinn
March 11 2012, 11:34AM
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@Jon

I stopped watching Don 10 years ago. Best decision of my life. #Fact

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#28 Paq Twinn
March 11 2012, 11:36AM
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Rob... wrote:

I used to complain quite a bit about the entitlement of the Leafs and the ridiculous support of the CBC. But I can now watch every single Oilers game, spread across multiple channel without paying any more for cable/satellite than normal. Screw the CBC. Screw the Leafs. I really don't care anymore.

Despite that, I still love the article, and only wish you could have tied the Canadian tax dollar into it somehow, Willis.

I'll second that. Well said.

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#29 Paq Twinn
March 11 2012, 11:49AM
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schevvy wrote:

I have a feeling after 2014, CTV may take over from CBC for the HNIC games. Put Gord Miller/Ray Ferraro on th early game and then Chris Cuthbert/Mike Johnson on the late game. TSN's intermission line-up is already top-notch, and they could hire some old CBC guys like Hughson and or Simpson to shore up the broadcast quality.

The only thing that might prevent this is CTV's reluctance to do the playoffs every night for two months. They have a sold line-up of American reality shows that they might not want to give up on for that substantial period of time.

The reason I say CTV over TSN is because I think the NHL would want it on a channel everyone (?) gets, rather than a specialty channel like TSN.

Tsn used to be a specaity channel.....they are included in the "basic" package with most cable networks these days.

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#30 Smokey
March 11 2012, 11:57AM
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I love the Don, but he's not been a commentator for some time. I see him as more of a comedian. I want commentary I listen to Elliott Friedman or Bob McKenzie or Pierre LeBrun.

CBC has slipped for some time. I tune in for The Don's address to the hockey nationality week, and the Hotstove. The late broadcast is usually aweful, Lee makes me wanna poor acid in my ears. Hrudey is livable, but PJ. Stock makes me wanna listen to Pierre MaGuire.

TSN does a great job with analysts. Bobby Mac is awesome, but all the ex hockey players from Ward to McLennan,, and ex coaches like Torts to Mac T have been good over the years. They have taken CBC's lunch and their eating it too.

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#31 Smokey
March 11 2012, 12:00PM
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Oh yeah, CBC's biggest prob. Is Bob Cole. No offence to Bob, but people have tuned him out for some time.

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#32 RKD
March 11 2012, 12:03PM
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Brian Burke has nothing better to do than go to Don Cherry's bosses at the CBC to get him fired. That's a joke. Why do GM's fire head coaches? To make up for their own shortcomings. The reality is Burke still doesn't have the personnel to get his team into the playoffs. Kessel and Lupul alone can't do it. Connolly and Lombardi have disappointed combining only for 43 points.

I think HNIC has adapted fairly well given the losses of their trademark song, and the loss of Chris Cuthbert.

Fact is everyone wants to work for TSN, Pierre LeBrun and Steve Kouleas left the Score. More people leave CBC to go to TSN than vice versa.

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#33 Smokey
March 11 2012, 12:06PM
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Homie wrote:

Anyone get the feeling that Burke is angling for Cherry's job?

hope not. Their both attention seeking blowhards, but Don is at least lovable. Burke is a grumpy old man. My wife barely watches hockey, but she won't miss the Don. Burke does not have that attractive quality and could never fill Don's shoes.

Granted is there anyone who could?

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#34 Monaertchi
March 11 2012, 12:10PM
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Grapes is a senile old fool. I can't stand listening to him, and so I don't.

The good thing about SNet is that they show most Flames games. The bad thing is that they suck at it.

TSN is the cream of the crop. Play-by-play, analysis, insiders. Every facet of their broadcasts is better than eith SNet or CBC.

The only things CBC has going for it are history (i.e. it's over), Freidman, Hughson, and Hrudey isn't terrible.

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#35 Shane
March 11 2012, 12:14PM
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Smokey wrote:

Oh yeah, CBC's biggest prob. Is Bob Cole. No offence to Bob, but people have tuned him out for some time.

Thank you! I was gonna bring up CBCs biggest problem but you beat me to it, this man has been a bumbling idiot from before the lockout and has become worse since. For the 5-10mins or so that I do tune into a week mostly during the commercials of my regular programming(if the Oilers aren't playing) I am simply astounded that this man is still on the air, I mean he doesn't even really call the games anymore, he's always ten seconds behind and bumbling something about nothing like an old man. It's truly unbelievable that he's on a national stage......publicly funding

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#36 Vintage Flame
March 11 2012, 12:14PM
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I hate CBC's obsession with Toronto as much as the next fan but there is also another side to the story.

I believe it was back in the 80's that there wasn't a station out there that wanted to carry Canadian hockey games. It was CBC that stepped up and accepted the role of televising Canadian games on Saturday night, it just didn't generate good enough ratings; CBC carried the torch.

The times have changed though and with the emergence of the CTV - TSN - Sportsnet conglomerate during the Olympics, the support of CBC is waning.

The TV deal expires in 2014 and I would expect that there will be a structural change.. You can see it already happening with the regional arms of sportsnet carrying the bulk-load of the games now, but as much as I'm not a fan, CBC should be given their due for televising Canadian hockey when no one else would.

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#37 Shane
March 11 2012, 12:19PM
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@Vintage Flame

1.1 billion a year isn't enough??

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#38 Boozer
March 11 2012, 12:21PM
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pelhem grenville wrote:

...there IS a candidate to replace Cherry

...Doug MacLean @ Sportsnet...the guy is a beauty, a former head coach that went to a SC Final (Lost) and is as 'folksy' and 'non-confrontational' as anyone...and a PEI native that is as Canadian as Cherry ever was ... Don Cherry will make only a few more gaffs until CBC will take him off the air citing political differences with management and the wider Toronto fan base...Don Cherry needs to step aside and make room for MacLean & MacLean ...

Doug MacLean is a clown, you listen to him like Pierre MacGuire to see what stupid thing comes out of his mouth next.

I know these guys won't become commentator for CBC, but guys like Pat Quinn is great as interview, love to see if he could do commentary. I always loved Phil Esposito commentary, but he's probably happy in Florida. Jeremy Roenick would irritate some, but I actually like his stick. He would probably even wear bad suits if he was contractually obligated. Even Milbury is ok once in a while. I think Tortz could do a great job, if he did not hate the media and stupid questions so much. Tortz has that firey attitude Don has.

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#39 Vintage Flame
March 11 2012, 12:23PM
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@Shane

Haha.. No I get it. I'm fed up with the status quo as well.. Don't get me wrong. I look forward to a change in format or the eventual relinquishing of the HNiC choke hold that CBC has.

I hate seeing Toronto on TV every Sat, and actually not even watch the game unless they are playing Cgy.

As per the 1.1 Billion CBC gets... I'm fully on board with getting rid of that. I don't believe or support it. If the station is so great and viable as it is, it should be able to survive in the market place like all the other stations. This subsidy crap has to end.

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#40 Shane
March 11 2012, 12:49PM
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@Vintage Flame

Yes agree what ever happened to free enterprise?

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#41 RossCreekNation
March 11 2012, 12:57PM
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Steve. Ludzik.

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#42 Dog Train
March 11 2012, 01:00PM
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CBC sucks. Don't forget, they lost their song too. They seem to turn down the arena noise too. Give me a game on any other network. I can't stand most of the commentators on CBC and I can't even understand half of what Cherry says because he is always yelling and mispronouncing names.

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#43 Jerconjake
March 11 2012, 01:06PM
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Stack Pad Save wrote:

Grapes is one of the best of all time! CBC needs more of Don and less of Hrudey. IMO I cannot stand Eliotte Friedmann, when the guy talks you can tell he has never played the game and has little to no understanding of it.

Are you for real? Ever read his 30 thoughts? They're as much a staple as this site.

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#44 OneOfTheseDays
March 11 2012, 01:10PM
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I just cannot for the life of me understand why they pay Mike Milbury to be an analyst. The guy has his head up his ass when it comes to the game and they have him on ALL THE TIME.

If they are so concerned about growing the game they shouldnt be paying someone whose career as a GM clearly demonstrated his lack of knowledge when it comes to today's game.

I know I'm not alone in this. It shouldn't be a surprise that CBC's falling behind and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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#45 Wax Man Riley
March 11 2012, 01:28PM
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I gave up on CBC after they wouldn't retain their anthem. What a joke. A cultural icon, and they said no???

No HD in the late game, Kevin Weekes is such a poser, and the Toronto-centric nature leaves me thinking that I am watching a game that doesn't matter (because it isn't Tor or Mtl), played by 11 goalies, since the only thing the colour guy talks about is "the stupendous save Khabbi made" as it trickles off his left skate on an icing call.

HNIT.... Hockey Night in Toronto. Everyone else be damned.

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#46 Wax Man Riley
March 11 2012, 01:30PM
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IMO, TSN is the new Hockey Night in Canada. They have great coverage for their games.

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#47 Wax Man Riley
March 11 2012, 01:33PM
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Wax Man Riley wrote:

I gave up on CBC after they wouldn't retain their anthem. What a joke. A cultural icon, and they said no???

No HD in the late game, Kevin Weekes is such a poser, and the Toronto-centric nature leaves me thinking that I am watching a game that doesn't matter (because it isn't Tor or Mtl), played by 11 goalies, since the only thing the colour guy talks about is "the stupendous save Khabbi made" as it trickles off his left skate on an icing call.

HNIT.... Hockey Night in Toronto. Everyone else be damned.

I don't even watch HNIC anymore.... is Weekes still on it? I thought I saw him on the NHL Network.

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#48 schevvy
March 11 2012, 01:42PM
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Wax Man Riley wrote:

I don't even watch HNIC anymore.... is Weekes still on it? I thought I saw him on the NHL Network.

Unfortunately, yes.

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#49 Reg Dunlop
March 11 2012, 01:58PM
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I understand the frustration over the CBC's perceived Toronto bias but TO is the centre of the universe, New York with trees. Come and visit, after all Edmonton is, lets see, somewhere west of Guelph? By the way, do you know Frank? He is from Edmonton.

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#50 neojanus
March 11 2012, 01:58PM
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Yes, CBC is broken.

Maclean is a great host, but he's become increasingly "political" in terms of the NHL and has been trying to become the Mansbridge personality on the show.

Cherry will retire soon enough. We can last that long because he's earned his tenure. He is also one of the few honest people around with inside info, even if he is dated and losing the trend of sports.

BIG improvement with Hughson no longer being allowed to masturb... uhm... call the Canucks' games.

The truth is, of course TSN has a huge advantage and gets better. They are the sharks of the industry. They got young when CBC got older. They've earned their reputation because of the great enthusiasm of Duthie, the likes of Mackenzie/Dreger (even though he's a bit biased), the input of Ferraro, Pang, Ward, Peca, etc. It's legitimately intelligent, informed, and well spoken.

CBC is a politically biased public broadcaster accountable to the whole nation and largely fed by Ontario taxation -- a station getting older and older, losing its financial base as the government realizes that it doesn't really do a great job of much of anything any more. The whole station's days are numbered, never mind HNIC.

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