Trouble for Hockey Night in Canada?

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.

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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.

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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.

  • Reg Dunlop

    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.

  • neojanus

    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.

  • Reg Dunlop

    HNIC ruled the airwaves when we only had access to 3 channrls, one of them french, and Bob Goldham doing color {on our black and white set}. The ensuing 4 decades have brought competition that the mothercorp has struggled to keep up to. Tax dollars propping up an institution means they don’t have to be the best, adequate is enough. If, somehow, HNIC on CBC had to survive on its merits I think there would be a better product on saturdays, but still with the Leafs on all the time because 1/3 of Canadas population is in the GTA.

    Now if they just had Friendly Giant on play by play,Mr Dressup doing color and Bruno Gerussi between periods…

  • RCN

    Wouldn’t mind a scenario where CTV (likely with a combination of current HNIC & TSN talents) takes over Saturday nights, and CBC negotiates a weekly Saturday and/or Sunday afternoon game slot instead. Downsize CBC’s involvement so that they can get rid of the dead weight and produce a better product with the few good guys they do have.

  • RCN

    Tsn intermission broadcast has to be the most annoying, over analyzed trash out there. Don’t get me wrong, Bobby Mac knows his stuff, but, to me, the group is just a bunch of “insiders.” HNIC is the meat and potatoes. Can’t beat Bob Cole calling a game.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    Looking solely at HNIC, this program seems to ignore the mandate that the CBC has set out for itself. The CBC claims to strive toward representing the whole of canada both nationally and regionally. It also claims that it must be equitable as well. The CBC says this while covering 2 markets with all the primetime coverage each and every week, and the 5 other teams get the scraps that remain, largely the remaining markets get the spots that are too late for eastern and central Canadians to watch. It’s quite frankly a national embarrassment, and a slap in the face to all Canadians that live outside of southern Ontario, and Quebec.

    The CBC’s mandate:

  • paul wodehouse

    I still think HNIC is the best of all the broadcasts. I love the hotstove league.

    What is brutal is the ‘B’ team we get calling the western late game. Kevin Weekes is unbearable.

  • beloch

    My biggest beef with CBC coverage is how they cover the late-night games West of Ontario. The commentators are *horrible*. It’s especially bad when the Flames are playing L.A. or San Jose. These clowns clearly know more about, and can’t resist talking continually about, those U.S. teams even though their broadcast is being primarily watched by a Canadian audience. It’s almost as bad as watching a feed from NY where all the commentators can talk about is baseball and pretzels. Occasionally it feels like somebody in the booth holds up a sign for the CBC commentators that says, “Hey! It’s time to talk about the Flames for a bit!”, and then they bust out the lame cowboy jokes. These guys drop absolute groaners every single game I catch. They’re absolutely unprepared and unprofessional hacks.

    The commentators are bad enough, but then the intermission hits. Like him or hate him, at least grapes is entertaining to watch, almost like a train-wreck in slow-motion. I happen to like Ron Maclean. However, those aren’t the guys you see during those late-night intermissions. They’ve all gone home! The knobs that they put on air are neither insightful or entertainingly nuts. It really feels like West-coast games are games that nobody at the CBC cares about, and the product they deliver suffers.

    Thanks to the lackluster effort of the CBC team and the poor commentators, I’d actually rather watch games on sportsnet than CBC!

  • Derzie

    My only beef is too darn much Toronto. I PVR the 1st intermission just to listen to Cherry. Nobody speaks their mind anymore and no one stands up for tradition. Everyone is PC this and PC that. I don’t support hatred but I do support saying what you believe especially if it is support of someone (i.e Canadian hard working hockey players). Burke does his ranting too but I’m firmly on Team Cheery for this tiff. Then again, this whole soap opera wouldn’t even exist without the center of the universe. I’m so confused. :-O

  • Milhouse Van Ched

    TSN’s hockey broadcasts are good, but its missing something in comparison to HNIC, in my opinion.

    TSN, like HNIC, also goes back to Toronto too much and I start hearing about the Leafs rather than the teams they are featuring. I prefer Sportsnet over TSN on some nights, as they keep their show focused more on the teams that are playing. TSN is still the Toronto Sports Network at times. I also hate when a game on TSN ends and they automatically jump to Sports Centre, particularly when Hedger and Dutch are at the desk. Jennifer is still nice to look at, but the voice is annoying at times. And Dutch sounds sometimes like he is selling me a used car.

    HNIC needs to shuffle the early eastern game like they do the later western games. I too am completely sick of the Leafs. I never watch the early game because of that. I realize that TO has the largest metro area population wise, and for whatever reason, there still exists a lot of Leafs fans outside of the “centre of the universe” (why I don’t know). But all of Canada are not die hard TML fans. Lets see Ottawa and the Habs on the nationally televised game, not always TO.

    Cherry’s time is up. He doesn’t have a clue on how to pronounce half the names of players who are not Leafs, or what happens in hockey outside of TO. Time to retire. Replace him with Mike Milbury, or a Milbury type guy that triggers the odd controversial viewpoint or statement.

  • How about Mike Richards as a Cherry replacement, used to be on Fan 960 in Calgary now TSN radio in TO. Equally as controversial as Cherry but 10x as entertaining, wardrobe aside.

    CBC has declined into a train wreck, sadly that’s what its like. Watching it for the same reasons sometimes.

    Hotstove is the best segment they have by far, and Nostalgia is one of the few things working in the CBC’s favour in my books.

    During playoffs I usually end up watching the American feed because the play-by-play is so brutal on CBC.

    SportsNet is the only thing worse IMO, mind you I am a big Rob Kerr fan but not as a play-by-play guy, miss him on Overtime.

    (Aside) I’m surprised CBC didn’t pick up Roger Millions, he’s right in the same talent level as Weekes.

  • This is what I have done since I was 6 years old. I sit and watch HNIC. For 41 years I have done this. My wife knows better than to scheduel anything on a Saturday night. This is my night. My son who is 9 sits on the floor and occasionaly turns when a goal is scored and comments about how lame the goaltender is. I love HNIC. I miss the theme song. It doesn’t belong on TSN. For me its tradition. I am a guy who before cable and the internet got most of his Oilers games via the radio. I am a traditionalist. HNIC has some issues.The stupid chick who ran CBC Sports for a couple of years is gone. The guy at the helm has forger partnerships with TSN to broadcast the Olympics and other sports. As much as the CBC haters would like to see them foldup thier tent I think that CBC has more to offer every Canadian then TSN and Sportsnet can.When is the last time whitewater rafting,gymnastics,or Show jumping was telecast on either of the cable channels. CBC sports caters to all Canadians. Not just the hockey fans.

  • CBC should have owned the rights to the HNIC song long ago. They really blew that one. No matter where I was or what I was doing, I’d stop everything and run to the TV when I hear Foster Hewitt’s voice with the HNIC song playing. I used to get a chill from that every time. I sure miss that feeling.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Change isn’t always for the bad. Think i like the newer HNIC music better than the previous timeless classic anyways.

    The only guy that rubbed me the wrong way when it comes to pbp/colormen, was Gary Dornhoffer. That guy had it in for the Oilers from day 1. He appeared to fade into oblivion during that 4 in 5 run during the mid 80’s. The Oilers sure SUITBOTC.

    Not sure which is more amazing, flying through the air while seated in a chair (the miracle of flight)…or the amount of hockey available on our televisions. Both are a welcomed benifit.

  • I might be alone in this, but I like the status quo.
    TSN/Sportsnet does great NHL coverage all week, and Saturday night is a Canadian Institution and the biggest event of the week.

    Having 3 players in the game has resulted in great coverage building up to the main event Sat night.
    You don’t throw down an institution overnight.
    Coach’s Corner, Hotstove, are great. I look forward to them all week. My only complaint? It should be Hockey Day in Canada every Sat.

    Its like American Sunday Football. Its an institution. Leave it be.

    Or maybe we should kick the beaver to the curb while we’re at it?

  • Personally I did not think it was possible to ruin a game by putting the sound on… then along came mark lee, who was then trumped by Rob Kerr.

    simply unbearable.

    The CBC needs a mercy killing. Its a financial travesty and given that they put out such a pathetic product while simultaneously fleecing the tax payer for the newest and best gear annually, the verdict is overdue. Its time for the charade to end IMO. Nostalgia aside, the CBC is a national embarrassment and a financial albatross around the neck of the canadian citizen.

    The only dude in the CBC on air populace with a shred of integrity is Friedman IMO, and he will be snapped up by whats left over. The rest can take their last outrageous check and subsequent lifetime pension (its a given) and fleece us till death do us part.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    If CBC ever loses HNIC, say goodbye to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on free TV. CTV and Global are not going to drop American programming for 3 months to air playoff hockey. It’ll end up on TSN, further cementing their near monopoly on major pro sports in Canada.

    Not a big deal for most, but it hurts those who will miss it the most. The low income fan who loses their rite of spring.

    Hopefully the NHL has enough sense to recognize the value the CBC brings to the table, despite the lowered quality in recent years.

  • Kelso_F

    CBC and saturday nights (excluding playoffs) will always be my primary source to watch hockey. Everyone thats complaining about Don Cherry…..hes been on for this long for a reason, and now has 2 movies about him….yes, he must be evil. Don Cherry is, and will always be, a hockey icon. You hear Don Cherry, you think HNIC. I enjoy TSN broadcasts of games simply because of my love for hockey, i even watched when Pierre McGuire was on air, and i dislike his abilities as an analyst. HNIC is the home of hockey in my books, it was that when i grow up, and i will keep it that way for many more years to come.

  • KatzKidsJewFro

    Typical HNIC After Hours:

    Kevin Weekes: Taylor Hall how are you man? That is a sick suit you are wearing, what kind is it? I hear you love Xbox, you and your boys ever play Chel 12 for drinks?

    Scott Oake (Super thin hair not HD ready): Enough of that Kevin, we have two questions from the Twitters and still need to watch my son do magic.

    Honestly just the worst interviews ever.