The only Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs — the very exciting Vancouver Canucks — will barely be available on television to more than half the country when the next round of the post-season begins.
And how has the NHL or its Canadian carrier, Rogers Sportsnet, allowed this to happen?
The latest Sportsnet snafu — and there have been so many since the network paid a king’s ransom to be the national rights-holder — has the Canucks opening their series against the No. 1-seeded Vegas Golden Knights at 10:30 ET on Sunday night.
That’s 11:30 p.m. in Eastern Canada. That’s midnight in Newfoundland, where Bob Cole lives. That’s middle of the night for many.
This basically assures hockey lovers across the country that the majority — Ontario and Quebec alone represent 66% of the Canadian population — will not be awake to see all of Game 1, and the 9:45 ET starts for Game 2 and 3 would mean overtime would start some time around 1 a.m. Eastern time. And that late, even the insomniacs such as me are doing head-bobs to keep listening to the great Chris Cuthbert.
The idea, of course, as always, is for Sportsnet to engage people, to bring them in, to get them excited about hockey. If you can’t watch Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson and not want to see more, check your pulse or your vision. The Canucks may not beat Vegas, it’s possible no one will, but they just knocked off the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, and I happen to know that because I woke up just in time to see the series-clinching empty-net goal and then tried to get back to sleep.
The NHL, as always, needs to better understand Canada’s love of hockey and Sportsnet needs to be stronger with its voice, its scheduling. It has something to sell here — an easy sell — and it’s maddening why the network can’t figure a way to get it right.
THIS AND THAT
There was nothing wrong with Kyle Dubas trading away Nazem Kadri. After two irresponsible suspensions in two playoff seasons, he had to go. The problem is the return wasn’t good enough. Tyson Barrie didn’t help the Leafs on defence and Alex Kerfoot couldn’t take Kadri’s spot as third-line centre. Now it’s a tough loss to recover from … The Leafs’ third line was a lost cause against Columbus in the pre-playoff round. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay third line of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman was semi-dominant against Columbus, with each player scoring in the five-game series … Because he played so many years for rather ordinary Winnipeg Jets teams, Dale Hawerchuk never got the recognition he deserved for being the sensational player he was. When I covered the Smythe Division in the 1980s, I always thought the top three centres in the division and in the league until Mario Lemieux arrived were Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Hawerchuk, who passed away of cancer the other day. In the West, Edmonton, Calgary or Vancouver (once) played for the Stanley Cup nine straight seasons, winning six. The Oilers and Flames were full of Hall of Famers. Winnipeg had one. The last conversation I had with Hawerchuk was in Connor McDavid’s final year of junior. I asked him about McDavid. “Whatever they’re saying about him,” said Hawerchuk. “He’s better than that. Believe me.” … I don’t cheer for teams, but inside I do cheer for people and for stories. And if this is Zdeno Chara’s last NHL season, I’d love to see him carry the Stanley Cup again … Is there anything more poorly named than the NHL’s Department of Safety? … Of the eight teams left in the Stanley Cup playoffs, not one player is paid more than $10 million a year on the salary cap, all significantly less than the Leafs pay John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. The highest-paid player left in the playoffs is the Stars’ Tyler Seguin, whose cap hit is $9.8 million … Pat Quinn used to joke — or maybe not joke — that you should never hire your replacement as an assistant coach. But Sheldon Keefe apparently has no objections if Bruce Boudreau is added to the Leafs staff next season. Keefe already has former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol on his staff, so what’s another ex-NHL head coach to help out?
HEAR AND THERE
Sportsnet gets one thing right. The Blue Jays broadcasts with Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez, even from a studio away from the ballparks, are as good it gets. Getting Shulman every night is a treat. There are those in the TV world and around the NHL who believe Sportsnet favours the baseball team it owns over the hockey responsibilities, and with Shulman we understand why … Unwritten rules in baseball aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on … The Raptors are about to play the Boston Celtics in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs and without any home-court advantage, it’s hard to handicap this series. The Raptors have been 11-3 against the Celtics at home since Brad Stevens took over as Boston’s coach in 2013. Their record in Boston is just 5-9. Now take away the crowd and what do you have? … It used to drive former Raptors coach Dwane Casey just a little bit crazy that the NBA media fawns over Stevens when he had a 13-7 record head-to-head against him during his time in Toronto … The end of this coming week marks the first half of the Major League Baseball season and how weird does that feel? This whole season seems like spring training to me. Just a collection of guys you’ve never heard of playing against a collection of guys you’ve never heard of. The rather-hot Blue Jays have played 25 games and made 33 player transactions thus far. Try keeping track of that on a daily basis … The Philadelphia 76ers are a chemistry experiment gone wrong. They are part Maple Leafs, part Edmonton Oilers, mostly confounding … Fred VanVleet is sixth in the NBA in scoring in the playoffs. Those ahead of the undrafted VanVleet are Kawhi Leonard and four rather early NBA draft picks … Wonder what second -round match will do better on Canadian television, Canucks-Knights or Raptors-Celtics?
SCENE AND HEARD
Mike Palmateer is no different than many fans of the Leafs. He wonders if Frederik Andersen is the right goaltender for the team. “You can develop confidence, but a competitive drive and spirit is part of your DNA. Either you have it or you don’t. It’s wonderful to be skilled,” Palmateer told Howard Berger, who writes the Between The Posts blog and used to cover the team regularly. “Yet it doesn’t matter much without a passionate desire to win. And it has to flourish in the playoffs. Everything else is the buildup. If you cannot ‘bring it’ while playing for the Stanley Cup, there isn’t a lot of hope for your team.” Palmateer, who played great goal in Toronto, used to scout for the Leafs. He was let go by Brendan Shanahan five years ago … If there’s a Zoom media conference to announce John Tortorella as NHL coach of the year, should reporters show up on the call, then simultaneously exit the conference without asking a question? … Another thing the Leafs need: A big shot from the point. You watch enough playoffs you come to value the big slap shot with bodies in front of the opponent’s net … The NBA informed teams this week they are no longer allowed to report injuries in any kind of general terms. They must use specific reasons and body parts. In other words, none of that ‘unfit to play’ NHL nonsense for the NBA, which has at least one gambling website as an advertiser on its playoff broadcasts.
AND ANOTHER THING
It is paramount that the CFL take the nine months and harshly evaluate everything it does, everything it can do better. Especially for teams in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, which need to be creative and inventive about how they will return football to those tuned-out markets … And yes, I can love the CFL and scream loudly about its problems all at the same time. That’s not being negative. That’s being honest … Julian Merryweather. It is alive … It may be a cliche, that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win, but look at how St. Louis went out this year and how Washington has gone out the past two years. In order to win, they needed every player at maximum, delivering over a two-month period. And they needed bounces and calls and goaltending and good health. The Capitals looked to be at the end of the line against the Islanders, who can make you look that way. And now Pittsburgh and Washington — three of the past four Cup winners — with their stars all signed up, have to be asking what’s next for their teams? … Kobe Bryant would have been 42 on Sunday and it still feels wrong that he’s gone … And a happy birthday to Pat Gillick (83), Paul Molitor (64), Ray Ferraro (56), Glenn Healy (58), Carl Yastrzemski (81), Anthony Calvillo (48), Bill Parcells (79) and Sonny Jurgenson (86), Julio Franco (62) and Billy McKinney (26) … And hey, whatever became of Vesa Toskala?
CFL VIEWERSHIP TELLS A STARTLING STORY
If you walked into any television network in Canada and promised them more than 250 hours of programming, 86 episodes in all, three hours or more per show, with a guaranteed viewership of more 48 million people, the response would be: Where do you sign up?
And how fast can we get the deal done?
Those are the numbers of the Canadian Football League. Pretty much year after year, pretty remarkable numbers. And in this time of a pandemic and trying to deal with the new realities of our world and country, the forever-struggling CFL will not play this season, insisting it can’t afford to play without fans in the stands, having bungled attempts to get government help along the way, and now caught in the waiting game of an uncertain future.
But those who see the CFL as irrelevant — and many Canadians take that view, especially in southern Ontario — the television numbers remain startling. You couldn’t take Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience and Murdoch Mysteries and Letterkenny and whatever else you might determine to be the best Canadian programs on television and do numbers that compare to CFL broadcasts.
Years ago, my colleague Jim Hunt described the CFL as the equivalent of Canadian pornography. “People will watch in the privacy of their homes,” the late Hunt insisted, “they just won’t tell anybody they’re doing so.”
MUSICAL CHAIRS AWAITING FREE-AGENT GOALIE CROP?
Jacob Markstrom and Braden Holtby are both 30 years old and available. Robin Lehner is one year younger and also available.
All of them free-agent goaltenders at what might be the worst possible time to be free agents in the NHL. And also available, 35-year-old Cory Crawford, winner of two Stanley Cups. Possibly available: The likely to be bought out Devan Dubnyk. Available for trade: Two-time Cup winner Matt Murray.
In other words, the goalie market is going to be flooded heading into fall free agency.
And with the salary cap flat, with the logistics of moving a family suddenly complicated, with the spectre of COVID-19, this could well be an autumn game of goaltender musical chairs, with somebody left without a seat at the table.
Around the NHL, it is believed the Minnesota Wild will be one team acquiring a goalie and will buy out Dubnyk. It is also believed there will be teams such as Calgary, Carolina, possibly Edmonton, some but not all of them, looking to upgrade in net. There has even been a story around that the Leafs might consider trading Frederik Andersen if the right kind of deal could be made.
Markstrom has had a great season in Vancouver and has followed it recently with an impressive early playoffs. He’s probably the best buy on the cluttered market, and maybe the only sure thing. For now, projecting goaltending is like weather reporting in Alberta. Wait 15 minutes and it will be certain to change.
THE GROWTH OF NICK NURSE AS AN NBA PERSONALITY
Whatever it was that Masai Ujiri believed he was getting when he gambled and hired Nick Nurse to replace the uber-popular Dwane Casey, he’s gotten more.
An NBA championship in Nurse’s first year on the job followed by the best winning percentage season in team history this season. And so far, an undefeated playoffs this summer. And now, the not-surprising news of Saturday afternoon with Nurse becoming the third Raptor to be named the league’s coach of the year.
It’s remarkable, really, just how Nurse has transformed, grown and matured as a public figure as he has gotten more comfortable with himself, more trusting in his environment and more available as part of the NBA’s personality landscape.
It wasn’t easy to replace Casey. That, of course, got easier when Kawhi Leonard was acquired two summers back and a title followed that. But this season, there was supposed to be a drop-off. No Leonard, no contending. Or so it seemed. But Nurse has shown himself to be a fascinating strategist, a new-born celebrity, a coach comfortable in his own skin and with the decisions he is making. Easily, the coach of the year.