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.

  • 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.