The “New” HNIC Needs a Few More Adjustments

CBC is under-using Andi Petrillo in her new role at the "iDesk"

CBC is under-using Andi Petrillo in her new role at the “iDesk”

CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada began its 60th season on Saturday with record ratings. There were a number of changes to CBC’s broadcasts, especially to the studio programming and the “Prime West” game. While some of CBC’s changes were effective, others need tweaking. And still others made no sense whatsoever. And, of course, it wouldn’t be the first weekend of a new NHL season without Don Cherry analysis on the Brian Burke firing (remember when Burke tried to have Cherry fired?).

I’ll start with the good. I think Kevin Weekes and Glenn Healy are both far more effective in studio than they are on game broadcasts. Weekes is especially good as the slower pace of studio talk fits his delivery better. Healy’s better if only because I’d rather hear him for 10 minutes than 60+. In fact I actually thought he was kind of funny Saturday night, more like his pre-NHLPA self. I also think CBC giving Rick Ball the “Prime West” game was a great choice. He isn’t Cuthbert or Hughson, but he is far better than Lee and should grow into the spot fine. He is also a great candidate to lead CBC’s CFL coverage, should they ever get those broadcast rights again.

The only problem about Weekes and Healy in the studio is that Kelly Hrudey is also a better studio analyst. He really seemed out of his element doing colour commentary on Saturday night. He constantly stumbled over sentences and was just too slow to keep up with the pace of the game. Hrudey is at his best when he’s in the studio with a telestrator breaking down plays. This presents the obvious problem for CBC, they have too many goalies who all excel at the same thing.

So how do they fix that problem? Well most importantly there’s still plenty of time for Hrudey to adjust to his new role. If he doesn’t, I’d suggest moving him back to the studio with Weekes. CBC could also try putting Hrudey between the benches.If all else fails, then I’d love to see Daryl Reaugh back at CBC working the late game with Ball. Of course that would also depend on Reaugh’s commitment to do local Dallas Stars game on Fox Sports.

Luckily for Hrudey, it isn’t him everyone will remember Saturday HNIC season opener for. PJ Stock drew the ire of most of Twitter on Saturday night for his studio analysis. The “best” of Stock’s lines? “Take option ‘A’ or option ‘B’. [Toronto] didn’t beat Jack the Giant Killer in Montreal.” If you can figure that one out, then good on ya. And yes, I realize it’s a metaphor to the story, but it’s also a metaphor that makes little sense.

Stock also talked in circles during the Hotstove when he got confused about P.K. Subban’s contract negotiations. Or as Stock put it, “With him in the lineup they finished 15th, without him they can’t finish any worse.”  Well, duh, unless the NHL adds a 16th team to the Eastern Conference the Habs could skate a team of any 18 guys they like and not finish any worse. Stock also said he sells, which is great, but it’s not like this is Nashville or Phoenix. The Canadiens selling tickets and merchandise isn’t dependent on P.K. Subban. For CBC’s studio programming to improve, Stock needs to go.

Ron MacLean, Kevin Weekes and Elliotte Friedman followed up Stock’s “analysis” with some insight, rebuttal and facts, which I thought was great. Healy also put Stock in his place on the NHL lockout, where Stock thought the players did good to get to 50% HRR. Did anyone really believe the players would get less than a 50/50 split on HRR? Stock went on to talk over Healy.

Getting rid of Stock would also help improve CBC’s Hotstove, which was once the best sports studio programming on TV anywhere in North America. Of course that was also before the Twitter age (Satellite Hotstove, anyone?) when Saturday night was the time to get the latest trade rumours. The Hotstove, as it originally was, may not work anymore because of Twitter and 24/7 insider coverage on TSN with McKenzie and Dreger. But regardless, I’m not alone (see other media writers). If CBC is insistent on using the current format, then removing Stock and replacing him with Tim Wharnsby would probably do it for me. At least Weekes and Healy have their facts straight. Friedman needs more speaking time.

And then there were two things that were just odd about CBC’s broadcast on Saturday. The first was Andi Petrillo. Despite hosting the “iDesk” segment, there was no desk whatsoever. And the camera angles the CBC choose to use didn’t really help their case. Like her predecessors at the iDesk (Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek), CBC is wasting her talent on a useless segment. There is nothing worse than reading Tweets on-air, and it is becoming more common on every network. CBC should use her as the rinkside reporter for the afternoon game (when there is one). That would account for about 1/3 of their broadcasts this season. It’s great that she’s the first female studio host for HNIC, but what’s not great is the way they are using her.

The other oddity of CBC’s coverage was the second Don Cherry segment, at the first intermission of the Ducks @ Canucks game. It seems CBC has removed Cherry’s post-Leafs game segment for this one, which is odd in itself. What is even more odd is the arrangement. Ron MacLean sits down, while Don Cherry stands up awkwardly towering over MacLean. It was nice to see Cherry talk about teams outside the Northeast Division for once though.

Hockey Night in Canada will originate live from Calgary next Saturday. MacLean and Cherry will both be there. I’m not sure about the rest of CBC’s studio crew. Hockey Night will visit all seven Canadian cities this season.

Fact Checking… I thought Cherry was mostly on point with his Brian Burke analysis. Usually his line “Instead of getting Canadians he got US college guys and Finns and Swedes” would draw a lot of attention. Not so because of the rest of CBC’s studio programming. Anyone want to guess how many “Finns and Swedes” the Leafs have? Two, one from each country. They also have a, dare I say it, Russian.

HockeyCentral… Speaking of studio programming, Sportsnet’s HockeyCentral needs more Jeff Marek and Billy Jaffe. They two hosted the first HockeyCentral Tonight of the season on Monday and were excellent together. Jaffe never played in the NHL, he played college hockey at Michigan, but he sees the game brilliantly. His comparison of Patrick Kane’s goal on Saturday and Kyle Turris’ goal last night was great insight.

Sportsnet Scorebug… Sportsnet’s new hockey scorebug is a huge upgrade over their old one. It is very similar to the one Leafs TV used last season and it is designed by a Canadian.

22 thoughts on “The “New” HNIC Needs a Few More Adjustments

  1. Instead of more voices on the hotstove, they need less. I’d be happy with MacLean Freidman Wharnsby and a western voice like Jason Botchford from the Province who does some stuff on TSN

    • I’m not saying that there should be more, just if CBC insists on using 4 analysts, Wharnsby should replace Stock. I’m not the biggest Healy fan, but I like having him or Weekes because they do have connections with players and the PA (and some teams as well). If they were going to completely re-work it, then someone like Botchford would be good.

  2. Well said. All CBC needs is Hrudey and Elliotte in the studio. There’s no need for anyone else. Sometimes less is more. Its almost as if CBC knows they have medicore analysts so they think adding more makes them stronger. Hrudey was totally out of his element on Saturday night. If he doesn’t improve, it will be a massive blunder on CBC’s part. Its too bad Rheaugh can’t take that gig permanently. CBC should do everything in their power to get him so Hrudey can be back where he belongs.

    P.J. was a hot mess. My favorite part of the day was when Ron called Stock one of the greatest energy players of all time. I give Stock credit as he’s improved greatly since he made his debut on OLN years ago but that’s not saying much. He would be fine on a regional broadcast but he has no business being on the holy grail that’s HNIC. Weekes is OK but doesn’t add much while Healy is a wild card. This week was his best showing in a long time. He was certainly less annoying than usual and was largely accurate for a change.

    The Hotstove has lost relevance as TSN dominates that and this new format won’t change that. Elliotte and Wharnsby are being wasted just as Morrison was. The iDesk has never had any relevance. All it seems to be is an ad for Chevy.

    I’m glad someone else is calling out Grapes and the hype surrounding his second Coach’s Corner. That new second segment isn’t new at all unless he will make more post-game segments when there’s more time. If not, they just moved him and got free PR. I did find his US college players remark funny. I never knew Dion, Beauchemin, Lupul, Giggy, Colby, Versteeg, etc. went to US college!

    • It was the Finns and Swedes comment that caught me. They seriously do have a ton of college guys though. I think I counted 10 on their current roster who played NCAA, including their 2 best (Kessel and van Riemsdyk) and their new starting goalie.

      • They have their share, I’m not disputing that, but I don’t think anyone believes the Leafs woes are because of NCAA players. Just look at the rosters of the Kings and Devils last year. They both had around the same number of college players as the Leafs do and things turned out fine for them.

        My bigger point is that Burke brought in a ton of high profile guys that were busts in one way or another. That’s why the Leafs failed under his leadership. It was a constant shuffling of players that never panned out. Trying to pin it on NCAA or foreign players as Grapes attempted to was silly.

        • I’m not saying it was their downfall. Like I said, their two best players played college, just that Cherry was accurate on them having a lot of them.

          Did Burke really bring in that many high profile players? Kessel, Lupul, Phaneuf and van Riemsdyk. They’ve all turned out ok. His moves on defense were the really bad ones, aside from Phaneuf and Gardner. Injuries to Armstrong and Connolly didn’t help.

  3. I long for the days when the Hotstove was any combination of John Davidson, Eric Duhatschek, Scott Morrison, Pierre Lebrun, and Kelly Hrudy. The one group they have now is extremely week compared to them. Healy’s annoying, Stock’s an entertaining personality but a weak analyst, and even Freidman I prefer hosting spots as the rink-side reporter rather than an analyst. If I were in charge Kevin Weekes would be the only one to stay. Pair him up with Wharnsby and bring in a respected hockey guy from elsewhere. HNIC would also do many favours for themselves if they paired up Stock and Petrillo. Have them do an expanded I-Desk role that’s not useless like its current incarnation. Have them do highlights, injury reports, news bites, and a little analysis. Stock and Petrillo would be an entertaining I-desk duo, Freidman would go back to doing what he does best, and Healy…he can just leave.

    • John Davidson MADE the satellite hotstove great for me. I loved it when he was a regular. But the relevance of the segment has diminished as Josh said. Perhaps CBC could make it a daily or semi-regular feature on the National, after Peter but before local news, or maybe on George Stephanopolous’ show?

      • Davidson was great. Maybe that’s what they need, a former GM. I hear there’s an entertaining one in Toronto, if any media organization wanted to use him (and there may be very good reasons not to by the sounds of it).

    • i think Friedman is best used, during the regular season at least, on the studio panel. Not to mention its a “higher up” type of job generally. Reporting is usually more of an entry type job that leads to studio work.

      I just want Stock gone. Let RDS have him if they want so he can ramble on in another language.

      • “I just want Stock gone. Let RDS have him if they want so he can ramble on in another language.”

        You had me laughing with this comment! In all seriousness, Stock is the most useless out of everyone in the HNIC studio. Hopefully the CBC will get rid of him sooner rather than later. One can dream.

  4. I’m part of the team that built the new Sportsnet score bug. Thanks for noticing and thanks for the mention. It’s nice to see some hockey finally.

    • Cheers and yes it is. Even nicer that my Senators can actually win some games with ease.

    • the bug is a huge improvement – will it be used for other sports also?

      but it does remind me of NBC hockey bug though.

      • Can’t speak for other sports really, but Sportsnet already had a similar (as in one with the “SN” logo instead of a black bar with “Sportsnet”) for Jays broadcasts last year.

        I’d like to see something different for Champions League. The one they use now is horrible compared to just about any other network I’ve ever watched soccer on.

  5. I pretty much agree with the comments in the original piece here. There were way too many people in the Hot Stove segment. I’m not sure Rick Ball is that much of an advance on Mark Lee. For example he didn’t even bother to call one Ducks goal in the first period. That’s just sloppy.

    One other minor comment is I didn’t particularly like the new HNIC title sequence. Folding Foster Hewitt’s iconic Hello Canada into one from Bob Cole didn’t work for me. And they’ve also down played the voices of Bill Hewitt and Danny Galivan. Minor points, but in a year when they are focusing on their history, this seems a slightly odd move.

    • I somehow managed to miss that two (three?) times. I didn’t see a good bit of either primetime games either, for what its worth. I did see all four primetime intermissions and the TOR-MTL postgame show live though.

      • They actually ran the intro three times! I was watching on the NHL CI package here in the States and caught all three openings.

        • I like Hrudey in the colour role, though you have to give him and Ball some time in their roles. The beauty of half a season is to get to experiment. And that is what the entire CBC set of changes feels me: throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. Some of these changes will never stick well. I like the Stock/Petrillo idea for the I-Desk. Fewer and more journalism voices on the Hot Stove.

  6. If CBC could bring in Eric Duhatschek from The Globe & Mail, that would be a great addition for The Hot Stove. CBC desperately needs a journalist, not an ex-goon who was completely worthless a player and even worse as an announcer. I do like Weekes in the studio. He’s much better there. Never cared for Kelly Hrudey. Always thought he was overrated. And please CBC, fire Mark Lee. He is dreadful!

    • Mark Lee isn’t THAT bad!! Trust, me, there’s LOTS of guys who are a whole lot worse than Mr. Lee. The jury is out on Rick Ball as far as I’m concerned…time will tell if he’s an upgrade.

      • In terms of national TV/Canadian commentators, Lee is pretty bad IMO. He has improved though, but still hurts the ears when he gets excited. I’d take anybody else at CBC, any of TSN’s four commentators, at the very least Brown, Quinn and Bowen at Sportsnet (not familiar with Shorthouse or Kerr really) or either of NBC’s 2 regulars over him.

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