Hockey Day stickhandling toward new tradition?

ROB BRODIE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

The debate about the NHL schedule -- or rather, the fact the current format isn't changing -- doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon.

It's still great fodder for sports talk radio and 'hot stove' panels on various television channels, even though it's already been written in stone that nothing will change in Gary Bettman's world for at least another year.

One question, at least north of the border, keeps leaping into the conversation: What the hell are you thinking?

Okay, two questions.

The other being: What about Hockey Day in Canada?

In the current rotating format, teams from the Northeast and Northwest divisions won't face off against each other next season.

Meaning, without a big assist from the NHL, it'll be impossible for CBC to match up all six Canadian teams on Hockey Day in 2007.

"We've asked for that favour," said Joel Darling, Hockey Night in Canada's executive producer.

But in the same breath, Darling admits he doesn't expect it'll happen.

"How can (the NHL) say yes to us and not say yes to somebody else," he said. "As soon as they change (the schedule) for us, all the other teams would say 'if you can do it for them, why not for us?'

"It would just set off a chain of events that wouldn't be fair."

So Darling and Co. will press forward with a plan that includes four games -- and two American teams.

"All six Canadian teams will still play and we'll tell some great stories and it'll be fine," he said. "It's not the end of the world.

"I'm not overly concerned about it. The schedule is what it is."

Which U.S. teams will fill the void? Some might suggest going the Original Six route, but Darling hinted teams in border cities could be prime candidates.

"Does that mean we would have a team like Buffalo or Detroit involved because they're border cities? Maybe," he said.

Given that, let's do a little speculating. There would be one 2 p.m. game (Ottawa-Montreal), a pair of regional games at 7 p.m. (Buffalo-Toronto and Vancouver-Detroit), and one 10 p.m. game (Calgary-Edmonton). The 'Celebrating The Game' features would fill out the rest of the day.

Something worth noting: Two U.S. states, Minnesota and Michigan, had Hockey Day celebrations of their own last month in conjunction with ours.

"Hockey Day has kind of seeped across the border," said Darling. "There are (American) people who send us e-mails about things they're doing."

And, as Darling points out, there are plenty of Canadians on every U.S.-based team's roster. "Being a part of this tradition would be pretty special to them," he said.

THE NUMBERS GAME: In the spirit of the biggest audience grabber of them all, the NHL enjoyed some robust TV numbers. Both Hockey Night in Canada games last Saturday -- Sens-Leafs (1.491 million) and Canucks-Flames (938,000) -- posted season highs in their timeslots. Sunday's Canadiens-Penguins game topped them both -- a combined 1.509 million RDS and CBS. RDS' audience (917,000) was also a season best ... Big night for Rogers Sportsnet on Tuesday: Two games (Leafs-Blues and Canucks-Oilers) aired in three regions, with a total viewership of 1.05 million.

FEELING THE DRAFT: If you're thinking television is behind the NHL draft's move to a Friday night ... well, let's just say they're not exactly against prime-time coverage of the opening round on June 22 from Columbus, Ohio. "It should mean better ratings," said TSN president Phil King. "It's something that made sense for everybody, including Versus in the U.S." Also making it possible for TSN: The network was able to schedule at 10 p.m. CFL game that night.

NOW, THAT'S A MILESTONE: ESPN SportsCenter, the show that changed the way North Americans view sports TV, airs its 30,000th show Sunday at 10:30 p.m. The first one? Sept. 7, 1979, when Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning were both three years old, and The Brady Bunch and The Odd Couple were staples of prime-time television.

AROUND THE DIAL: Starting Monday at 1 p.m., Rogers Television has province wide coverage of the Ontario men's curling championship, the TSC Stores Tankard ... Expect CFL television schedules to be released in the next week or so ... For the second straight year, RDS attracted a record-setting Super Bowl audience. This year's number (816,000) was up 15% over 2005.


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