By Lyle Richardson
The NHL’s new 12-year, $5.2 billion broadcasting deal with Roger Communications (the parent company of Sportsnet) will have a significant impact upon NHL television coverage in Canada, as well as for league revenue and the salary cap.
By owning the league’s Canadian broadcasting rights, Rogers signalled its intent to turn Sportsnet into the dominant sports channel in Canada. After years of Sportsnet playing second fiddle to TSN, this new TV deal flips the dynamic. While TSN still has local rights to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets, losing the national broadcast rights makes it difficult for that network to maintain its visibility among Canadian NHL fans.
The new deal also proves CBC can no longer out-bid Sportsnet and TSN for professional sports broadcasting rights. It also raises questions about the future of Hockey Night in Canada. Though the long-time hockey program will remain on CBC for four more seasons, Sportsnet will control its on-air talent, production and content, as well as reap all its advertising revenue. Even the future of show host Ron MacLean and his popular, outspoken partner Don Cherry appears in doubt.
Apart from guaranteeing Hockey Night’s survival for four more years, the only benefit for the CBC is they won’t have to pick up the production costs. Following those four years, Sportsnet will decide if Hockey Night remains on CBC, moves to Sportsnet or gets cancelled.
Such was the price the CBC paid to ensure the existence of a 61-year-old hockey tradition.
The new deal also provides the league with a significant increase in revenue, meaning the salary cap could rise substantially in the coming years, perhaps reaching as high as $100 million by 2022.
Only Habs in playoff hunt
If the NHL season came to an end this week, the Montreal Canadiens would be the only Canadian team assured of a playoff berth.
For the past month the Toronto Maple Leafs have struggled to score and are being out-shot by wide margins on most nights. They’ve slid down the Eastern Conference standings, barely clinging to the last wild card playoff berth. The Vancouver Canucks’ 39 points would easily ensure them a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, but in the very competitive West they’re barely in the post-season picture.
The Ottawa Senators, projected by some experts a Stanley Cup contender, entered this week eight points out of a playoff berth.
Moving to the Western Conference did nothing to snap the Winnipeg Jets out of the inconsistency which has dogged them for several seasons. As for the rebuilding Calgary Flames and the floundering Edmonton Oilers, the less said, the better.
Without significant improvement by some of these teams, Montreal could be the only Canadian club clinching a playoff berth by April.
Subban must go to Olympics
Speaking of the Canadiens, some pundits speculate puck-moving defenceman P.K. Subban could be excluded for selection to Canada’s Sochi Olympics men’s hockey team.
Despite winning the Norris Trophy last season as the league’s best defenceman and leading the Canadiens this season in scoring, there’s talk Team Canada’s management aren’t happy with Subban’s defensive play.
Only 24, Subban is a high-risk, high-reward defenceman, but with his smooth skating and offensive creativity he would thrive on the big ice at Sochi. His big shot would benefit Team Canada’s offensive attack, especially on the power-play. Pairing Subban with a more defensively responsible partner should off-set concerns over his defensive zone play.
The purpose of hockey is to out-score your opponent. At the 1998 and 2006 Olympics, Team Canada opted for defensive brawn over offensive skill on their blueline and were shut out of the medals. They run the same risk if they exclude Subban from the Sochi Game.
Goaltending is the key
Of the current Western Conference playoff contenders, all three California NHL teams — the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings — are among the top five in the standings.
That’s right, three California-based teams are doing better than the four Western Canadian NHL franchises.
Goaltending depth has played a significant role in their success to date. The Ducks can draw upon Jonas Hiller, Viktor Fasth (currently sidelined) and call-up Frederik Andersen. Former Maple Leafs netminder Ben Scrivens has filled in admirably for injured Kings starter Jonathan Quick, ranking among the league leaders in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts. Sharks starter Antti Niemi is second overall in wins.
Offence is also a factor. Sharks forwards Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, along with Ducks stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, are among the league’s top-20 scorers. The Kings are led by Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter.
The road to the 2014 Stanley Cup could pass through one of those California cities.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer
with The Hockey News and runs the
website Spector’s Hockey. His column
will appear in The Guardian
throughout the NHL hockey season.