Simpson's rising star

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:43 AM ET

Craig Simpson came to the conclusion he wasn't going to become the next Scotty Bowman.

So he decided to take a shot at becoming the next Harry Neale.

Simpson didn't leave the decision up to his 11-year-old son Riley. But he could have.

"Riley said as long as we don't move anywhere, I don't care," laughed the now ex-Edmonton Oilers' assistant coach who made his move back to the broadcast booth with CBC's Hockey Night In Canada official at a press conference yesterday.

CAREER SWITCH

Four years working as an assistant didn't make Simpson anybody's future NHL head coach. And HNIC offered him an opportunity to essentially groom him as the next No. 1 colour commentator.

Simpson could have relocated to Springfield to be head coach of the new AHL farm club and pursue a head coaching future through the minor league route.

After giving Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish a one-month heads-up that this was going to happen, Simpson was able to announce his much-rumoured return to the booth.

The announcement had been held back to coincide with changes announced by the CBC yesterday which included Joel Darling being named director of production for CBC Sports and Sherali Najak replacing him as executive producer of HNIC.

MacTavish said he's had plenty of time to consider a replacement. He said he's "more or less" decided on Simpson's replacement.

A possible choice might be former Hockey Canada coach Marc Habsheid who recently became available with the firing of head coach Dave Lewis by the Boston Bruins.

Replacing Simpson will result in a shift of duties with the coaching staff. Simpson was responsible for the Oilers' much-maligned power play and he'd come under much criticism as a result.

"Billy and I will take on the power play," said MacTavish of assistant coach Billy Moores.

The new assistant coach will be responsible for pre-game opponent preparation.

"Charlie Huddy has done most of that," said MacTavish. "It will free up more time for Charlie to concentrate on coaching the defence. We'll have a much different group on the back end this year."

Simpson, who had wet eyes at times during the press gathering, said changing careers again leaves him with conflicting emotions.

"It's an exciting day because of the opportunity but a sad day as well because I'll be leaving the organization," he said. "HNIC is in the midst of making changes and the opportunity was too good to pass up. It's an opportunity which may never come up again.

"I went to both Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish immediately and asked their opinion on the chances of becoming a head coach in the league in the short term."

They both effectively pointed at the press box.

Simpson spent eight seasons as a broadcaster from 1995-96 to 2002-03. After his retirement from a 10-year NHL career, including six of those seasons with the Oilers, Simpson worked with TSN's The Hockey Show and Be A Player in 1996. He then moved to Los Angeles and spent two years working with Fox SportsNet.

Simpson moved back to Edmonton for a Sportsnet job, where he worked with Jim Hughson on NHL national broadcasts and in the studio with the network's Stanley Cup Playoff coverage. This would set the stage for his jump to HNIC to work with Hughson again. They'll eventually replace Bob Cole and Neale as CBC's lead pair.

TWO STANLEY CUPS

Simpson, who won Stanley Cups in Edmonton in 1988 and 1990, said making it to the final two years ago as a coach came close to that experience.

"Obviously to go to the Stanley Cup final was a huge thrill as a player. To go as a coach almost parallelled that. It was hugely gratifying."

One thing about it all, says Simpson. He figures he's going back a lot better of a broadcaster than he was when he left because of his four years as an assistant.

"The minute I walked into the studio with Hockey Night In Canada this spring it was evident how much it helped me as a broadcaster," he said.


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