Hockey Night on the clock

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

It's mid-September, and the signs of autumn are clearly in the air.

And the clock is ticking.

Moving ever so closely toward a place nobody really wants to be.

With the CBC's labour dispute now in its fifth week, questions are being asked. Probably among sports fans, at least, none more so loudly than this one: What about Hockey Night in Canada?

Especially in the wake of the latest development in this tale. The CBC has withdrawn from its planned coverage of tomorrow night's CFL game in Vancouver between the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. Lions.

CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald said stringent labour laws in B.C. would have made it "difficult" for the public broadcaster's management crew to handle the telecast.

TSN would have seemed like a logical destination to shift the game. But the network is already doing three CFL games this weekend, including the Stampeders-Tiger-Cats matchup earlier tomorrow night. With the game also blacked out in B.C., TSN passed on the broadcast.

Alouettes fans -- and those in the capital region, for that matter -- are being served by RDS. A cynic might suggest that by turning down the sound on the RDS broadcast, viewers will get the same thing they'd have received had CBC done the game. But we digress.

FACING RESTRICTIONS

The Vancouver episode is another clear indication of the limits of CBC's management-produced broadcasts. It's also worth noting the CBC has yet to produce a game from either Toronto or Hamilton, a labour-friendly city, since its lockout of Canadian Media Guild employees began.

Don't forget, too, what happened on Labour Day. The CBC couldn't handle a CFL doubleheader, and gave one of the games back to TSN.

All of which brings us back to the puck query. Hockey Night in Canada has been a doubleheader affair for years, with the second game often coming from Vancouver. Given what's gone on this month alone, can hockey fans expect their usual fare on Saturday's if this labour mess isn't settled?

MacDonald says yes.

"We're going to do Hockey Night in Canada and we're going to have two games every week," he said. "We've got a plan that allows us to do that."

While MacDonald wouldn't divulge details of that plan, it's believed one game would be a management produced 'silent' broadcast, and the other would be mounted by a U.S. production company.

But here's one more question that hits a little closer to home. What about the nights that CBC plans to produce a third game regionally -- one that, on six occasions, involves the Senators.

One of them happens to be the team's Oct. 8 home opener against the Buffalo Sabres.

Jim Steel, the Senators VP of broadcasting, said he isn't concerned -- yet -- that Ottawa fans might lose the opportunity to see the regional games because of the labour dispute.

"From my perspective, I believe they're going to get (the dispute settled) because it's too important to them," he said.

"We're going to trust that they get their house in order."

The CBC and representatives of the CMG have been back at the bargaining table for nearly two weeks, and some progress is being made.

"Out of 40 issues that were outstanding, we've signed off on half of those," said MacDonald. "There are key issues still outstanding. But certainly, some progress is being made."

Hockey fans surely hope that continues.

The clock is ticking.

And time is running out.


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