I’m a little late to comment on this; I initially decided not to but after seeing the clip again over at MacLean’s I decided to weigh in on it.

First off, the caveats.  I am employed by The Score, so it may very well be bad form to comment on Hockey Night In Canada.  Secondly, I am a blogger, and thus to some degree may be associated with the people Don Cherry doesn’t think deserve a voice on HNIC.

I find myself in agreement with Cherry, Ron MacLean and Martin Patriquin over at MacLean’s; there is no need to dignify the folks who think Jaroslav Halak is comparable to Andre Racicot (let’s remember that Racicot played 31 minutes of NHL playoff hockey over the course of his entire career) or the guy who leaves the tags on his Canadiens’ jersey just in case they lose in Round Two.  There is no need to give these sorts of thoughts wider distribution than they already get.

That said, there’s something that bothers me about Cherry’s comments.  Perhaps it is just me, but it becomes more and more difficult to view HNIC in its current form as being all that venerable.

It starts with Cherry, the show’s most recognizable figure.  Between his appearance and his manner it’s hard enough to take him seriously, but he can’t even be bothered to learn the players’ names.  He’s entertaining and iconic but not especially relevant.

The show is also noticeably weak in actual NHL thinkers.  Leaving aside the journalists and broadcast people (some of whom, like MacLean, are very good at their jobs), there are a slew of ex-goaltenders who range from insightful (Hrudey) to still ascending a steep learning curve (Weekes) to guys who tear up when the Senators score on the Penguins.  For guys with NHL management experience, however, the show leans almost exclusively on Mike Milbury.

I don’t need to expound on Milbury’s failings as an NHL general manager; he’s certainly the worst NHL G.M. in recent memory, possibly the worst in league history – although that may just be because he had so many years to run his franchise into the ground.  The man has proven time and again he has no ability to run an NHL franchise, but when the nation’s most watched hockey program needed an analyst they turned to Milbury.

Many of these flaws aren’t unique to HNIC, but they’re more noticeable there.  Perhaps it’s just that HNIC as it is just can’t compete with my (rose-coloured) memories from growing up with it, but it isn’t a show anywhere near the leading edge of current NHL thinking, and it should be; it deserves to be.  Instead, the closest the show gets to the edge is when Milbury or Cherry say something negative about Europeans.

Getting back to the opening clip, I still agree with Cherry and the rest that HNIC doesn’t need to read the most ludicrous lines they find on message boards.  But they do need to try and catch up to the modern game, or failing that at least try and climb out of a 1980’s mentality.

Comments (25)

  1. Don has an excellent point that ill-informed and malicious comments from anonymous writers have limited value, and no place on Hockey Night in Canada.

    People should use their real names to express their opinions, adding credibility and accountability to their comments.

  2. I thought Don Cherry’s comments were spot-on. It was poor judgment to read those troll-like quotes on the air. On the other hand, I doubt if management cared, as they hired Milbury for the same reasons – expecting him to say something that will stir the pot. I’m glad Don called it for what it was, and hope it’s not repeated.

    As for Mr. Cherry: Quite frankly, he’s done more for hockey (especially minor hockey) than most people will ever do, and deserves a little respect.

  3. Unfortunately, Cherry himself is almost as irrelevant at this point in his career. His encroaching senility drives him to near incoherence most nights.

  4. Dan Epp:

    I know it didn’t come across above, but I actually think Cherry’s capable of a lot more than what he does in that format. His books are excellent, often insightful and give a glimpse of a more rational mind.

    I don’t think Cherry is what he appears as on Coach’s Corner, but he’s playing for an audience there and I think what he says suffers as a result.

  5. Kent Wilson:

    I know he can come across that way, but his latest book shows something else entirely.

    I’m not sure why he’s so different in another media, but he is.

  6. I wouldn’t want Milbury as my GM but I think he’s ok as an ‘analyst’. Results not withstanding, the guy has some serious experience in the game. Don Cherry seems like a jerk but there is no doubt his understanding of the game is at the top of the curve and I agree with him,the email segment is beneath HNIC.

  7. noskillgill:

    Is he really okay as an analyst? He advocates the same principles that he managed by – principles that are not only dated but often out of touch with reality. Go back and read some of the interviews he gave as G.M. and compare them to what he says now – they’re the same.

    And we all know how that turned out.

  8. Reading emails verbatim is kinda stoopid if really think about it. But it does remove the editorial comments. hell I have not been on the CBC boards but the flame wars there are they contained?
    Has Halak been questionable in some games yes but his upside has been far greater for the Habs. the guy cannot steal every game… I think he may be the little french goalie from Slapshot at one point he is going to suffer from shell shock.

  9. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m lucky to have grown up and lived in Central NY – one of the limited places in the USA that gets CBC on cable; thus allowing me to watch HNIC every Saturday. Cherry, while brash, still is more right than wrong in my mind and highlights good issues during Coaches Corner. I really like his focus on the player view of the game.

    While the comments they read are funny on the internet – you can get them almost anywhere on the internet. I watch Coaches Corner, Coast to Coast, and other HNIC segments for analysis on issues – not for that crap.

  10. The iDesk is a big batch of fail and has been from the start. I certainly don’t care what some random dude had to say about the game on Twitter. The only thing I like about Milbury is the anticipation of Healy finally losing control and punching him (he got close the other day when Milbury roughed up Healy’s hair).

    HNIC deserves to have some better talent that can actually speak about hockey with passion and intelligence (in-game is best of all networks, though Weekes should be replaced or sent to cover CHL games until he can be interesting and talk about non-goalie issues). Unfortunately TSN isn’t much better. Intermission segments make me think of the Fox News version of hockey broadcast (and I’m really sick of Mcguire’s smugness).

    I vote for Kouleas and Jonathan Willis to determine how to create a proper hockey broadcast with Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson doing play-by-play and colour, respectively.

  11. I would love to see Healy take a swing at Milbury. That smug knowitall, NHLPA mouthpiece gets on my nerves. Aside from play the bagpipes and sit on the end of a pro bench for a decade, what has Glen Healy done to earn the right to criticize anyone? He’s an asshat. Milbury was at least a good hockey player in his day.

  12. Don’t forget the play by play commentary (Bob Cole)
    The puck hit something on the way to the net.The shot missed the net but the crowd didn’t think so.Giving the score on a 2 for 1 break towards the net.Someone should tell him the score is on our screens.Oh baby??????
    The man cannot follow the play or even tell us who shoots the puck half the time.
    Thank god for NBC if Vancouver gets into the final.

  13. @dave brown: I’m telling you as an American Bob Cole and HNIC is 10X better than NBC and Doc Emrick. His voice is painful to hear and the phrases they use to describe the play is downright embarrassing to hockey.

  14. @dave brown: I have to agree with Rob, NBC is awful, even compared to the worst parts of HNIC or TSN. Though it is better than the games I have watched on Versus.

    I find that with a lot of the American broadcasts the play-by-play will be ignored for a few minutes while they ramble on about this or that. HNIC can does this but the play-by-play guy will interrupt the nonsense to get back to the action quicker than anyone on NBC or Versus does.

    I think the broadcasters come from a baseball or football background where there is a lot of time to drone on, unlike in hockey.

  15. @JW I don’t mind his opinions. I don’t agree with them but I feel he provides an insight into an area of hockey that most of us have no access to. Sure, he was a terrible GM but he’s a decent talking head given the format HNIC is going for.

  16. Rob, while that may be true, Doc at least actually calls the play, rather than spouting out vague phrases that kind of relate to what’s going on but, without context, don’t tell you a damn thing.

    Let me put it this way: the copy of the Gold Medal Game I have saved is the NBC feed. That was actually a professional presentation, as opposed to what we’ve been dealing with up here for decades.

    The HNIC product has needed a total, ground-up revamp since 2000 or so, and every time CBC’s tried, they get shouted down by fans who still think hockey’s nothing more than dumping a puck in the corner and chasing after it. The fans who think about it in a more technical manner are ill-served by the pack of morons that we’ve got now; Mcgwire at least tries to talk about the game like that, but he’s forced to spout catchphrases because that’s what the lowest common denominator wants. Fine, TSN has the excuse that they’re a commercial broadcaster, but CBC really could do with raising the quality of their broadcasts. Losing Cuthbert hurt them badly, as it’s forced them to keep Cole around for far longer than they originally intended.

    First positive change they can make: Make Friedman the host of the show and confine MacLean to talking with Cherry. That’ll keep the knuckle-draggers happy, since everyone else tunes out to The Score or Sportsnet during the intermission for highlights anyway.

  17. Bob Cole is an old man but he used to be the best. Give him a break and let him ride out into the sunset. He still has a great hockey voice.

  18. I am dubious about the “can’t even be bothered to learn the players names” gripe, but only for the reason that I think it’s part of Cherry’s shtick, especially when it comes to Euros or visor wearing, non-Cherry types of players. I still find his act entertaining, and respect his knowledge of the game. He has consistently shown in these playoffs on-ice trends and events that have shaped games and series.

    E desk? Lose it, along with Healy. He brings nothing to the show but conflict with Milbury, which is about as difficult as bringing stink to a skunk.

  19. don cherry cannot say the word ‘halak’ or he will turn to stone

  20. At worst it was a poor choice of what to read. Frankly, I’d be kind of pissed if I were Marek and had been called out on air for what I was doing in my segment. Reading fan emails and Internet stuff is a pretty well-established schtick on iDesk by now. It’s stupid and has been since they introduced it, but it’s been there too long for Cherry to call them out like that on air. It’s unprofessional. At least they attempted something new with it, even if it’s a schtick swiped from CNN.

    And you’re right, JW, Cherry’s comments seem symptomatic of HNIC as a whole: they need to get over themselves and admit that they need to try some new ideas, because their “venerable” hockey broadcast has become remarkably stale, Cherry’s show in particular, and they’ve refused to admit it for at least ten years. The “Hotstove” segment has fallen off a cliff since John Davidson went into management. Healy is a mouthpiece for the players and it’s pretty obvious he’s just killing time until the PA gets itself in order and he can get his old job back. Milbury is a cro-magnon idiot, and virtually everything he says is wrong. Friedman badly needs a bigger role in the studio, and they’re lucky to have kept him this long after shifting him around so much.

    Cherry lost me as a fan a few years ago. There was a fascinating article on ESPN’s website about him and his show a while back. Almost everything he does is scripted beforehand, even when he swears or says something stupid or yells at Ron MacLean. It’s entirely an act, and as far as I’m concerned it wore thin a long time ago. He’s been repeating the same things for 20 years.

  21. I stopped watching most of the HNIC segements about 2 years ago, now and again I will watch them but ususally on the net so I can fast foward through some of the B.S.
    There are guys on there who trained monkeys are smarter then, P.J Stock, couldnt even play hockey and he’s talking about it? Cherry is all right but starting to look less relevant each passing show. Weekes is trying but still far from what it takes to cut it as a hockey analyst. Milbury is the worst of the bunch he gets mad and takes the show fully off topic and around useless banter. I cant be bothered with any of them. CBC needs a full house cleaning before they are left behind in the hockey scene for good.

  22. This is way off topic but i noticed you commented on kevin weekes and stated hes “still ascending a steep learning curve (Weekes).” Personally i think hes one of the best hes ACTUALLY ENTHUSIASTIC most of the game which is far better than majority of the other commentators. The other thing is i live in ottawa and it was incredible frusterating listening to the commentators on the local sports station (granted it was the local sports station). The whole game im listening to the play by play man complain about the officating DURING PLAY meanwhile listening to the second while moan and groan everytime ottawa gains the offensive zone. My point is i think weekes should come take over duties here in ottawa he played for the local junior team the 67s and i think he would help make ottawa sports radio respectable again…

  23. Redlack Havacock was pretty close, you have to give him some credit.

    I’d like to hear what Kelvin Bieska and Roberto Lulonglo have to say on the matter.

  24. @Stephen: I guess it comes down to preference then. I would much rather have Bob Cole calling the game because as a hockey fan, player, and coach I know what is going on and where the puck is. I just think Cole describes the feeling or atmosphere of the game better with his timing and pitch.

    Another completely related but also personal preference is the fact that my second favorite sport to follow and watch is soccer; where the play by play man is also usually the color guy as well. Not to mention they let the play speak for itself and do not commentate every single movement of the ball.

    American sports broadcasting is very much about not having empty air space. Baseball and Football games are filled with commentary because there is plenty of time to commentate. Ironically, it is basketball, hockey’s rival, that allows the play to just develop followed by comments from the announcers.

  25. Bruce:

    I go back and forth on Weekes. He’s enthusiastic, and he’s as knowledgeable as they come when it comes to goaltending. He’s also willing to engage with fans (I’ve talked to him a few times on Twitter and have always been impressed with his willingness to talk).

    On the other hand, he’s raw as a colour commentator. He repeats cliches, says things like ‘good job getting that puck there’ and the like. I see the talent, and I hope he rounds off the rough edges.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *