Bob McKenzie. James Duthie. Gord Miller. Panger and Wardo. These TSN talking heads and a handful of others have taken NHL broadcasting into an uncharted realm of excellence over the past five-plus years.
But after this past week’s announcement, this squad of expertise and entertainment will now be handcuffed for at least the next decade and a half after Rogers Inc. bought the rights to every single hockey game being aired in Canada beginning next season.
Sportsnet, the station that serves as Rogers’ platform for hockey, has long been a poor man’s answer to the TSN machine, but will now be the go-to channel for the nightly puck drop.
The NHL has punched their fans in the gut with two lockouts over the past 15 years and they have now removed TSN, the league’s current primary broadcaster, in favour of a group of incoherent buffoons to quench an unlimited thirst for capital.
Sportsnet hockey currently serves its purpose, which is to broadcast almost every hockey game for the Canadian clubs on the nights that the TSN calendar is already full. They are the fill-in, the station that is called up from the farm when the knight in shining armor has a little too much to contend with.
Fans currently don’t complain too harshly about the lackluster Sportsnet product because there was of course a time when a decent chunk of games were simply not carried by local television. The combination of Sportsnet, TSN, TSN2 and the holy grail of hockey, CBC, have essentially guaranteed that every time a Canadian club is squaring off, it will be available on the tube.
But although Sportsnet has made following a squad like the Edmonton Oilers or the Calgary Flames a much easier ordeal, they have never managed to quite figure out how to deliver a smooth, pristine product the way The Sports Network has.
TSN’s sublime package begins with the hiring of James Duthie. A smartass, yes. But he is also an anchor that is as sharp as an ice blade and one that seems incapable of fumbling a word. He is crisp, professional, and knows exactly who to ask the appropriate question to. One could argue that is an easy duty when you have Bob McKenzie to your immediate left on a nightly basis.
McKenzie has become the NHL’s Google, a man with all the answers and one with insight that only his heir, Darren Dreger seems capable of one day matching.
While Don Cherry remains hockey’s megaphone, his blatant bias towards Canadians and specifically players from Kingston, Ontario is something the entire hockey community can laugh about.
McKenzie is an impartial cornerstone of the hockey world, but will now be forced to a much more limited role because of this monumental contract signed by the NHL and Rogers.
The Sportsnet product is comparable to the student who leaves his school project to the last minute and is forced to present in front of the class without researching his topic. Doug Mclean and Nick Kypreos are modestly intelligent, but the product takes a thunderous plummet once these two have spoken.
Marty McSorley, Brad May and John Shannon ramble on in such cliché vernacular, one would assume they are paid based on how much unoriginal material they can spew out between commercial breaks. While TSN searches for a fine balance of opinion and panorama, Sportsnet has stacked up on former hockey “tough guys,” giving their perspective an uneasy slant.
There are no revelations or insightful commentary to be found on Sportsnet. These sort of queries and ideas are only found coming from Darren Pang or a special guest panel member like Paul Maurice over on channel 21 (TSN in Calgary.)
Sportsnet has long been the NHL’s unlettered stepchild, the one who just can’t seem to keep up with his big brothers, TSN and CBC.
The status of Hockey Night in Canada will likely garner more attention over the next few months, but instinct says that Sportsnet and CBC will come to an agreement to at least keep Saturday Night HNIC alive.
It is the dismantling of the robust and calculated TSN torso that should be viewed as a complete slap in the face to true hockey fans.
Nobody breathes in the icy NHL air the way that the TSN unit does. They have set a new a new standard of hockey IQ, and now will be forced to watch a group of inadequate wash-ups attempt to fill their XXL shoes up a few channels.
The NHL has inhaled an incredible contract but has sacrificed its product to the fan’s dismay.