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Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard makes a save as St. Louis Blues centre T.J. Oshie looks for the rebound during the second period at the Scottrade Center on Tuesday night. (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE/2011 Scott Rovak)
Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard makes a save as St. Louis Blues centre T.J. Oshie looks for the rebound during the second period at the Scottrade Center on Tuesday night. (Scott Rovak-US PRESSWIRE/2011 Scott Rovak)

Usual Suspects

NHL realignment a boon for broadcasters Add to ...

In a career filled with negotiating consensus among squabbling owners, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s chef d’oeuvre might be the proposed new realignment. What was once thought to be a simple flip of Winnipeg to the Western Conference became a complete re-think of the NHL’s dynamics. If the NHL Players Association agrees, the league map will be re-written.

Said an impressed Brian Burke, GM of Toronto: “It was like a Chicago election in the ’30s. He knew where the votes were coming from.” As a result, the league can easily expand its playoff format and possibly add two expansion franchises to create two 16-team conferences. If Bettman is able to negotiate a new collective agreement as effortlessly he might be up for the Nobel Prize.

What does the new four-conference format promise for teams’ TV and radio? First, it means everyone gets to see the league’s reigning deities (and duds) play the locals on their home broadcaster. Hello Sidney, ciao Alex Ovechkin. More importantly, the new intra-conference playoff format will create a more equitable travel schedule for all teams, not simply Eastern teams whose limited travel gave them a huge advantage in the past.

So in the first two playoff rounds Vancouver wouldn’t be playing three times zones away in Detroit, or Edmonton would not have long trips to Nashville or St. Louis in the central time zone. Instead they’ll stay in their time zone, a boon for broadcasters and fans who are always accommodating odd start times. (Eastern teams will see little change in their postseason time zone coverage.)

The downside for the seven Canadian teams is that they’re almost all in two divisions, meaning that while CBC and TSN will have plenty of domestic matchups in the early rounds the teams could wind up eliminating each other before we get to the Conference Finals.

Better, the smaller pool of potential playoff opponents in those first rounds will promote more regional rivalries created by recurring series. Remember the old Norris or Adams Division hate-fests created by playing year after year? This new format will deliver more ready-made animosity for TV to exploit. A must considering the supposed Battle of Alberta hasn’t had a postseason edition since the early ‘90s.

As well, a typical team in the Northeast can currently expect fewer than 10 games outside its time zone all season; teams such as Detroit or Vancouver play twice as many of their games in another time zone. For teams such as Detroit or Columbus, the new format means fewer starts at 9:30 p.m. or 10:30 p.m. ET, a boon for their ratings. For Winnipeg, there is no possible playoff match with a Canadian team till the third round, but a guarantee that all Canadian teams come to the MTS Centre at least once a year.

In the regular season, the new home-and-home format for every opponent should deliver more Eastern games in radio prime time (4:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.) for Western teams - a ratings plus. Conversely TV ratings would be hurt by more early starts when most people are in their cars coming home from work.

Adams Family Update: Best suggestion for names of the new conferences? Has to be characters from Slap Shot. Reg Dunlop, Ogie Oglethorpe, Dr. Hook McCracken and your choice of a Hansen Brother. Let the Americans say they’re confused by those names.

Burke’s Law: The pressure on an NHL general manager in a Canadian city is stifling. You are a combination of Wizard of Oz and Village Idiot in the eyes of most fans. The local media gives you greater scrutiny than Mark Carney gets as Governor of the Bank of Canada. In short, it can make you crazy.

So what do we make of profane, angry e-mails coming to media members from Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke? While contact by management figures unhappy with stories is acceptable (even encouraged) by most in the press, the tone is meant to be civil. Make the point, disagree, move on.

But Burke has gone beyond that standard in several of his missives to journalists. The best way to look at Burke’s broadsides? He wants his players to acquit themselves professionally with the media, but he wants to give himself an exemption from that self discipline. Leadership flows from the top. How can Burke ask his players for a level of civil discourse that he is unable to deliver himself?

Business As Usual: The news that ex-enforcer Derek Boogaard’s autopsy showed advance signs of apparent brain damage due to concussions sent a chill through hockey circles. Who might be next and how many players are carrying the same CTE signs already? It gave almost everyone pause.

Not a problem at TSN, apparently, where the network was blithely extolling fights on Monday night’s version of Sportscentre. Host Darren Dutchyshen was happily chortling about players “getting the flippers up” in the Rangers/Maple Leafs contest while co-host Kate Beirness joined in the yukfest, approvingly describing players on the Bruins and Penguins pounding each other in another highlight pack.

Counted Out: Speaking of NHL fighters, Matthew Barnaby is apparently not a quick study. The veteran of seven NHL clubs was fired by ESPN Monday after being pulled over by Erie County (N.Y.) sheriff's deputies who saw an SUV driving erratically without a front tire. The former Buffalo Sabre now faces DWI charges and possible deportation for violating an agreement reached to avoid potential deportation following an arrest on a domestic charge earlier this year.

Picture This: Lights, camera, action... hey, where’s the camera? “A hand held CBC TV video camera, was taken some time on the 4th of December from the Lake Louise Ski hill on the World Cup Race Course. The Camera was with a Skidoo and other equipment by the start line of FIS World Cup down hill. The camera is a specialized TV Camera and is un-usable to the general public and un-sellable. The CBC would like the camera returned by calling crime stoppers 1-800-222-8477, type at www.crimestoppers.ca or text at tttTIPS to 274637. The CBC Calgary can be contacted 403-521-6200 or to their website at www.CBC.ca .”

Louis, round up the usual suspects.

Punjabi HNIC Returns: CBC is bringing back Hockey Night In Canada in Punjabi on Saturday with an all-Canadian doubleheader.

The Punjabi Bob Cole, play-by-play voice Harnarayan Singh, returns for a third season. Two games will be available every Saturday night during the regular season, as well as one series per round during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Deserving honour: Finally, props to our colleague Bob Elliott, the long-time baseball writer for the Sun chain who was named the first Canadian winner of the Taylor Spink Award, presented annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America “for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.” After starting as a Montreal Expos reporter for the Ottawa Citizen Elliott joined the Sun chain in 1987 and covered his 33rd consecutive Opening Day in 2010.

It’s no exaggeration to call Elliott the dean of Canadian baseball writers. Now he’ll have his name recognized in Cooperstown. Well done.

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