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.

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.

  • Stack Pad Save

    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.

  • Starving Student

    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.

  • Magnetman

    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.

    • Jeff Lebowski

      that’s what you think. Ron look square because he has to be, he’s the set up guy for Cherry. They’re the odd couple not so odd at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ron thought the same way as cherry off cameras. They probably sleep on the same side of the bed together.