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(Matthias Schrader)
(Matthias Schrader)

Usual Suspects

One Rogers property takes a bullet for another Add to ...

There was a time when a Toronto Blue Jays TV game being bumped by a soccer contest between Olympique Lyonnais and Bayern Munich would have been the punch line to a bizarre joke. But today's matinee against Kansas City is being moved to an alternate channel by Rogers Sportsnet - the sister operation of the Blue Jays - in favour of the Champions League first-leg semifinal between OL and Bayern in Munich. (The Blue Jays titanic tussle will be available on, among others, Rogers Cable, Shaw Cable and Shaw Direct.)

On the surface it seems a stunning broadcast decision taking futbol over baseball. But closer inspection reveals that it's not simply a soccer/ baseball value judgment. Sportsnet will bump the Blue Jays to the alternate channel for conflicts seven times during the CHL's Memorial Cup next month. Having the soccer game live on the main channel also seems to have been a precondition of Sportsnet getting the contract for the Champions League. So one Rogers property (Blue Jays) took a bullet for another (Sportsnet).

Finally, the conflict is only there because of a greater commitment from Sportsnet to carry all games of the team in 2010. Last season, afternoon games in April against the lowly Royals would not have been shown or would have used out-of-town broadcasters.

Distinct Coughing Motion: Hockey Night In Canada was at its best in the late hours of Monday/ early Tuesday following the 5-3 win by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks. Sensing that the disallowed goal by Daniel Sedin was the game's lightning rod, HNIC tossed aside the usual post game banalities to allow Mike Milbury, Kelly Hrudey and host Ron MacLean to dissect the baffling call that denied Vancouver a tie. All three professed varying degrees of bafflement over the decision-- which overruled the on-ice referees' call.

Crucially, MacLean stumped on-air to contact NHL vice-president Mike Murphy - the man who'd overturned the refs' call in Los Angeles from his Toronto office. Great hustle behind the scenes by HNIC staff produced Murphy, who offered a tortured,"We felt it was the skate, not in a distinct kicking motion, but in a kicking motion..." MacLean alertly hauled out the rule book which says only "a distinct kicking motion" can overturn a goal.

Murphy offered something about updated interpretations, but the damage was done for paranoid Canucks fans, who feel that the Kings are now the league's darlings. They'd have been even more upset had MacLean pointed out that Murphy-- who spent 10 years with the Kings - has openly rooted for Los Angeles to succeed this year. "I think it would be so neat to see the Kings succeed and win a Stanley Cup, because it would do just a tremendous amount for the Southern California market and the Kings franchise," Murphy told the Kings website (lakings.com) last October. "They have been hard working and very close in a number of years, so that would be nice to see."

But there's only so much that can be done on the fly. For now, top marks to HNIC for its work. And maybe next time the NHL changes its mind it might share the DVD memo with their broadcast partners.

Point Shots: The video review produced an eight-minute delay in the game, leading HNIC's Jim Hughson to quip, "This is taking longer than Avatar." Second place in the Hughson lexicon Monday, "A nice save, Quick off the draw...." when Kings goalie Jonathan Quick robbed the Canucks off a faceoff... Another gold star for HNIC Monday, showing the close-up video of the puck going off Canuck Sami Salo's tendon guard on L.A.'s fifth goal. The deflection fooled Canucks' backup goalie Andrew Raycroft and let the final air out of Vancouver's balloon.

Hrudey is a San Jose alumnus, but that doesn't mean he won't bait the Sharks. Hrudey lectured the talented Sharks about their apparent lack of commitment after the first period of Game Three in their series with Colorado. Hey, somebody had to say it. But P.J. Stock lecturing Joe Thornton on scoring? Uh, no.... Then there was HNIC analyst Kevin Weekes in the same game Sunday. After T.J. Galliardi of Colorado pancaked San Jose's Devin Setoguchi into the boards well after a whistle (drawing a boarding penalty), Weekes offered a tepid, "But he was just finishing his check."

Broadcasting EI: If there's a firing of an NHL executive that must mean there's a new TV panelist. Voila... Brian Lawton come on down to Rogers Sportsnet. The recently cashiered Tampa Bay Lightning GM popped up Monday beside Nick Kypreos on the hockey panel. Time will tell if Lawton - who's also a former player agent - is just parking till another management job appears or whether he'll actually speak his mind.

If he chooses discretion over valour, he'll have plenty of company amongst the deposed-management set on TV and radio. Usual Suspects blames the new mania for chalk-talk verbiage on fired GMs and coaches finding fancy ways ("shooting lanes"," active stick" and "half-board offence") of saying nothing.

That's Turrible: Charles Barkley of the NBA of TNT is the NBA's version of Don Cherry. We will expound more on this subject in an upcoming column. But for now, watch as the Turner NBA crew contrast Sir Charles - he of the tortured golf swing - to Turner's newest employee, Conan O'Brien. Who'd have thought the geeky redhead and the Round Mound Of Rebound were almost the same height?

 

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