With a month remaining in the NHL’s regular season, Hockey Night in Canada
should be moving to increase its coverage of the Canadian teams outside the centre of the hockey universe.Leading up to last Saturday, the two leading NHL stories in this country were the dismissal of John Paddock as coach of the Ottawa Senators and the surprising success of the Montreal Canadiens, who gave the starting goaltending job to rookie Carey Price, who won his first two games.Despite the cheery optimism of Mats Sundin & Co., the Toronto Maple Leafs are unlikely to make the playoffs.Still, the conversation on the most recent Hockey Night
focused almost entirely on the Leafs, 12th in the Eastern Conference.
The first intermission Coach’s Corner: Not a word about a Canadian team outside Toronto. Heavy discussion about Leafs rookie Jeremy Williams and Sundin’s decision to stay in Toronto.
Second intermission Hotstove panel: More talk about the Leafs — speculation about Sundin and the next Leafs general manager. Nothing about Ottawa, Montreal or the other NHL teams in Canada, except Vancouver, which was mentioned in passing as perhaps a destination for unsigned Swedish star Fabian Brunnstrom.
To be fair, Hockey Night aired a feature on the Canadiens during its afternoon Pittsburgh Penguins-Senators telecast. And the pregame show carried reports on Ottawa and Montreal.
However, in the important slot of 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (ET), when one million-plus viewers tune into the CBC, the Leafs dominated the conversation.
This seems self-defeating, because when the playoffs start, Hockey Night will be hoping that one million or more viewers become interested in, and watch, the Senators and the Canadiens, as well as the Calgary Flames and the Canucks, assuming they make the playoffs.
Don Cherry controls the subject matter of Coach’s Corner, but Hockey Night has the ability to increase the relevancy of the Hotstove outside Toronto.
Montreal-based P.J. Stock makes the occasional appearance, but on most Saturdays the three commentators are from Toronto. The programming mandate for Hotstove is originality and that is accomplished by the Toronto panel some of the time, but a good amount of the content also consists of speculation or information that has been touched on elsewhere.
Hockey Night made the right move last week when it increased the distribution of the New Jersey Devils-Canadiens game to include Manitoba-West as well as Quebec. But a bolder statement would have been to place the Habs in Atlantic Canada as well, limiting Leafs-Washington Capitals to Ontario.
The CBC will decide later this week on the distribution of the two 7 p.m. games for this Saturday, Devils-Leafs and Phoenix Coyotes-Senators.
If Toronto picks up two wins this week, perhaps placing Devils-Leafs in most of the country makes sense. If not, Coyotes-Senators would be the better choice.