Sports TV stations in Canada could start broadcasting KHL games featuring teams like Ilya Kovalchuk's (right) SKA St. Petersburg while the lockout is on. (REUTERS)
With all the talk about “pressure points” in the lockout, what about when fans punch the TV remote next month and there’s no NHL?
Contingency plans are being worked out by networks for after the Oct. 11 season opener, should the next two weeks not see meaningful progress in CBA sound bytes from owners and players.
In 2004-05, the CBC replaced Hockey Night In Canada with a family movie night, but it didn’t come close to the numbers that the Leafs, Habs and Coach’s Corner brought in. At TSN and Sportsnet, various stop-gap measures were tried.
“While we’re exploring programming options in case the season is delayed, everything continues to be business as usual,” said Jennifer Neziol, director of communications for Sportsnet. “As is always the case, coverage of Friday Night Hockey (Canadian Hockey League) will start at the beginning of November.”
At TSN, there’s CFL and NFL football, basketball and NASCAR to fall back on.
“The network could expand its programming slate during a lockout with additional live events, news, talk show and new sports documentaries,” director of communications Greg MacIsaac said.
What’s different from eight years ago, is the presence of the KHL. Take this with a grain of salt, but German-based UFA Sports Agency, which represents the KHL’s marketing arm outside Eastern Europe, is reportedly hearing from those North American broadcasters facing a huge hole in their hockey programming. KHL teams that would catch the fancy of fans here include Metallurg Magnitogorsk and Dynamo Moscow, home of Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, respectively.
Western European countries with a smaller appetite for hockey could also be wooed. But Sportsnet commentator John Shannon, a former HNIC producer, wonders how quickly the KHL novelty would wear off on these shores.
“I think there’s a curiosity, but just a curiosity,” Shannon said. “I don’t think it will turn people’s cranks. Those two KHL games planned at (Brooklyn’s) Barclay’s Center might have cachet (in January), but there’s an old adage that sport is tribal. People watch the Leafs because they’re the Leafs. I’m not sure how many Magnitogorsk fans there are. Long term, I don’t think the KHL or any other league is going to change habits.
“I think there is a chance for better success with special events, such as the Memorial Cup and world junior tournament.”
CHL and American Hockey League games could become popular alternatives if the lockout drags on into 2013.
“At a certain point, networks might mitigate their (NHL) losses,” Shannon said. “If they promised viewers hockey, they’ll have to deliver.”
YAK CAN’T GO BACK
Holding an invalid transfer, Nail Yakupov has been pulled off the Khimik bus.
The No. 1 pick in the 2012 NHL draft hoped to get around the lockout and into the pros by joining hometown Khimik, or if you prefer their proper team name Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. Two games into his move, which had the Edmonton Oilers’ blessing, Hockey Canada pulled the rug out because it had not co-signed the transfer card with Yakupov and Khimik. Hockey Canada backed the Sarnia Sting, which still holds the 18-year-old’s Yakupov’s junior hockey rights.
“He has a contract with Sarnia for 2012-13,” Hockey Canada spokesman Andre Brin told QMI. “He is expected to fulfill his (contract).”
Khimik has been fined $5,200 by the International Ice Hockey Association and Yakupov is suspended for now. He tweeted Wednesday to assure fans in Khimik he would return soon. If the Russian Ice Hockey Federation appeals, Hockey Canada is ready to take the matter before the IIHF.
Yakupov had 80 goals and 170 points in 107 career games for the Sting, but was held off the board in his brief KHL fling.
The St. Louis Blues are the latest NHL team to cutstaff in the wake of the lockout. Just under 20 front-office workers were laid off in the past few days and the 75 still employed with the team and arena have taken pay cuts ... The list of Winnipeg Jet prospects cleared to go to their AHL team in St. John’s includes Alex Birmistrov, who had considered going back to the KHL. The Jets tried to convince their No. 2 centre it was best to stay in North America ... Leafs first-round pick Morgan Rielly figured in two of the five goals his Moose Jaw Warriors scored in recent games, during a scouting mission by Leafs general manager Brian Burke. The GM said he planned to make a couple of trips West to watch the defenceman if the lockout persists, or have club talent evaluators Steve Staios, Jim Hughes and Bobby Carpenter stop by ... Sidney Crosby is idled, but a less famous resident of Coal Harbour, N.S., hopes to make the most of the lockout. Graduating Jr. B goalie C.J. Schipani is practising with the Nashville Predators, playing whenever Chris Mason need a break. He hopes to use the experience of facing big-league shooters to break in with Knoxville of the ECHL.