SUN Hockey Pool

CBC not a good home for Hockey Night

ERIN NICKS -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

How much of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada is untouchable? How much of it is traditionalist sentiment combined with an outdated format?

Could HNIC survive, or even thrive on a different network? The immediate response seems to be, "Why not?"

When Hockey Night in Canada isn't coming under fire for scheduling or lack of variety, it appears perfectly content to chug along -- bolstered by its illustrious history and the belief that it could continue, seemingly laissez-faire.

The program is more than a weekly NHL doubleheader. It's the pinnacle of Canadiana: A Saturday night ritual that leaves Americans (and others) nonplussed.

But when you consider the foibles that have befallen the program, one wonders how it would fare in the hands of another network.

One of the largest knocks on HNIC has always been its ability to make the Toronto Maple Leafs the star of the show, regardless of whether they were worthy of coverage at the time. The decision to show the Leafs, loved by some and reviled by others, takes precedence over all.

That choice has seriously infuriated some fans as of late.

Take for example, the network's decision to show the Leafs-Lightning game as opposed to broadcasting the tribute to Boom Boom Geoffrion, which occurred before a Rangers-Canadiens matchup. CBC Radio-Canada did show the game, as well as the preceding ceremony. It may have redeemed the gaffe, if the network hadn't gone to commercial right as the crowd was being asked to observe a moment of silence.

You also have to wonder about the CBC's decision to broadcast a Leafs-Rangers game from New York two weeks ago, as opposed to a division battle between Ottawa and Buffalo from the nation's capital. Budget constraints would surely hold the network's planned schedule firmly in place, but is it really asking too much to come up to Ottawa, as opposed to running satellite trucks and media teams down to Manhattan?

And who can forget HNIC's battles with censorship? From the highly publicized seven-second delay of Don Cherry during Coach's Corner, to this season's sudden departure of Al Strachan from the Satellite Hotstove, courtesy of Nancy Lee -- an integral part of the broadcast is its analysis between periods. The program has undoubtedly suffered due to these constraints. Reining in your talent is one thing, but to turn each segment into a monotonous bore?

Viewers are looking for a dialogue between the analysts, and between themselves. If CBC is pushing for filler, they might as well begin to sell the slots for advertising.

Times have changed a great deal in the past quarter-century. The upstart Canadian sports networks of old are now established veterans, and are financed by deep-pocketed corporations.

These networks also show NHL games with a much greater frequency than the CBC, and all have demonstrated they are more than capable of providing superior coverage, given the opportunity.

No one is debating that Hockey Night in Canada isn't an institution, but so much of it isn't wholly connected to the CBC in any way, shape or form.

The format, the personalities, the games themselves -- all could be reinstated elsewhere. What is everyone so attached to? If you're that desperate for the theme song, download it.

We don't need to put Hockey Night in Canada to bed. We just need to find a better place for it to rest.

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erinnicks@yahoo.ca


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