Canadians should demand better from Hockey Night in Canada

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Image: George Stroumboulopoulos / Facebook

Did you see the Ducks-Predators playoff game last night? Of course you didn’t, it was buried on the FX channel.

But if you are lucky enough to happen to subscribe to the channel like I am, you heard the Anaheim Ducks local broadcast team calling the game.

Nothing against John Ahlers and Brian Hayward – they’re fine broadcasters in their own regard – but they’re local broadcasters working for Fox Sports West that have a close relationship with the Ducks. This is Hockey Night in Canada, an institution in this country forever. We shouldn’t have to settle for a low budget local broadcast that is partial to the Anaheim Ducks.

Unfortunately in these playoffs, this isn’t an unusual circumstance for viewers.

The Blackhawks-Blues series has been one of the best in the first round, featuring two marquee teams. In Canada, we’re getting John Kelly, Darren Pang, and the St. Louis Blues broadcast from Fox Sports Midwest. Not only is the broadcast low budget, but it’s also coming from two men that are featured on the St. Louis Blues website as part of the team’s front office.

The broadcast is biased. I mean, listen to the call of last night’s double overtime goal by Patrick Kane. It was an epic end to an epic game, and you can feel the disappointment.

Not exactly Bob Cole saying ‘Jooooooe Sakiiiiiic!” is it?

Again, this is not a criticism of John Kelly. Being a little bit of a homer is fine for local coverage – I’m sure John Shorthouse and John Garrett want the Canucks to win when we watch Sportsnet Pacific broadcasts – but not for a coast-to-coast broadcast in Canada for hockey.

This postseason, we’ve had three of eight series featuring a broadcast team from Sportsnet/Hockey Night in Canada. Sportsnet has picked up the NBC national broadcast – which is of high quality, featuring some TSN broadcasters – for two of the series. The other three series have been fed to the Canadian public through American regional broadcasts.

Look, I know complaining about Hockey Night in Canada is a national pastime.

It’s always under the microscope, and it will never be good enough in the eyes of the public. But shouldn’t we demand better than this, especially for hockey?

Sportsnet took over all national broadcasting of NHL hockey in 2014 after they paid $5.2 billion for the 12-year agreement. Broadcasts should feel ‘big league’.

Not only are they under the microscope in these playoffs, but they have been criticized for a number of changes they made to the Canadian institution.

Most prominently, Ron MacLean was pushed to the side in favour of George Stroumboulopoulos. Stroumboulopoulos is a likeable host, but he’s not a pure ‘hockey guy’. He likes the sport, I have no doubts about that, but he doesn’t hold a candle to MacLean, or even TSN’s James Duthie.

MacLean still does Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry, but that’s it for Saturday night during the season. He is the host of Sportsnet’s traveling road show, Hometown Hockey, which airs every Sunday for the duration of the regular season.

So why did Sportsnet push Ron MacLean to the side? Perhaps they wanted to reach a younger, hipper demographic or perhaps there was another reason.

David Shoalts of the Globe & Mail, who appeared on BMac, Donnie & The Moj on TSN 1040 earlier in the week, shared some insight on the matter.

“My opinion, based on talking to a lot of people in the business – Ron included by the way – (is) that (MacLean) was ultimately pushed over to Hometown Hockey on Sundays because Gary Bettman and the rest of the NHL brass were not big fans of his” Shoalts explained. “As you recall, Ron used to spar pretty regularly with Gary Bettman during their interviews on the old Hockey Night in Canada.”

“(Gary Bettman) made it fairly clear to the Rogers brass that this was not something they wanted to see, Ron MacLean continue in his role as the main host.”

Pretty damning stuff.

Maybe that’s why we’ve seen Darren Millard get the back-up hosting duties in the playoffs when they’re giving Strombo a rest.

I have more complaints about Hockey Night in Canada – again, it’s our national pastime – but I’ll save that for another day.

I know we can’t expect perfection, but what we should expect, is for Sportsnet to match the quality that we saw from TSN’s NHL broadcasts when they had the rights.

Now, not everything with Sportsnet taking over Hockey Night in Canada has been disastrous. We no longer see intermission panels featuring Mike Milbury and Kevin Weekes – that’s a plus.

They kept Elliotte Friedman, who is the top insider in the sport not named Bob McKenzie. Jim Hughson, the best play-by-play man in hockey, is still the top guy.

Everyone is going to complain about Hockey Night in Canada no matter what, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect more. This is Canada, this is hockey, and we shouldn’t expect anything but the best.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHDxmb_TaQc

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Rob Williams Sports Editor at Vancity Buzz covering all sports in Vancouver.
@robthehockeyguy

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