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(Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)
(Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)

Usual Suspects

Ovie and Sid AWOL on NBC Add to ...

Maybe it's because Canada beat the U.S. for the men's hockey gold medal. Maybe Hilary Clinton is mad at us again. More likely it's because Canadian TV markets are as valuable as Confederate money to the U.S. Nielsen ratings. Whatever. While Canada gets the league's marquee American-based players Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby starting tonight, American hockey fans won't be seeing the Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens or Ottawa Senators any time soon on NBC's Sunday showcase (Don Pardo, show them what they've won...")

That also means that Ovechkin and Crosby are AWOL on NBC in the first weekend of the opening round. Plus, Los Angeles-- the second largest U.S. media market-- is shut out because of its Vancouver connection in Round One. Which cannot be good news for the NBC ratings. As well, stalwart puck markets such as Detroit (Phoenix), Boston (Buffalo) and Chicago (Nashville) have opponents unlikely to drive big ratings.

So expect a lot of New Jersey/ Philadelphia and Colorado/ San Jose on the Jay Leno channel until forced to do otherwise. And maybe Mike Milbury will take a swing at Pierre McGuire,

'Couve Move: CBC made a bold move to bolster its Vancouver presence by hiring veteran anchor Tony Parsons from Global TV to anchor its supper-hour news. Perhaps it might also consider trumping CTV/ TSN's Olympic presence in its second-largest market by moving the Hockey Night In Canada anchor desk to Vancouver for the first two rounds? You know, go where the hockey is. If not CBC, then maybe TSN? Usual Suspects can vouch that the azaleas are in full spring bloom, and Grouse Mountain still has wicked skiing...

Channel Your Thoughts: On a recent trip to Florida, Usual Suspects was watching the NHL Network and the MLB Network in a fashionable establishment (okay, it was Dune Dog). There is no comparison between the slick, well-financed MLB product and the NHL's more frugal competitor. But, surprisingly, there were people watching the NHL Channel on several TVs around the joint.

Few in Canada understand what a lifeline it is to hockey fans served intermittently (or not at all) in the U.S. by Versus and NBC. It might do better, however, to concentrate on the American fans who are starved for something/ anything in markets that place hockey below bass fishing. Currently, the content seems too Toronto/ Canadian biased to us. That market is already super-saturated by Canadian coverage on the three sports networks and CBC. Concentrate more on the guy in Alabama or Arkansas who must persevere with his hockey passion. And more cowbell.

Appy Face: Here an app, there an app, everywhere a phone app. CBC is offering playoff hockey on iPhone and iPod Touch via its Hockey Night In Canada application. It'll set you back $2.99 for a single game and $14.99 for the entire playoffs. Meanwhile, TSN is offering its playoff games on Bell Mobility for $8 a month. On both services you'll get bonus features, audio and stats. We can just hear Foster Hewitt in heaven: "Hello, Canada, and hockey fans in the United States and Newfoundland, and all the cell phones at sea!"

Tell It Like It Is: Usual Suspects felt a frisson of nostalgia Monday watching GM Darryl Sutter at the Calgary Flames' media opp. Sutter is a cum laude graduate of the Bob Pulford Media Appreciation School in Chicago. Back in the '70s and '80s, Pulford-- hands down the worst honoree in the Hall of Fame-- treated Chicago's fourth estate like lower orders on the evolutionary tree. Back in a time when GMs held a monopoly on player salaries, injuries and trades, Pully snarled, brayed and bullied the media into submission.

While times have changed - the media know to the nickel how dire Calgary's salary cap disaster is - Sutter has not. Monday, his Captain Queeg performance in the face of his team quitting on him lacked only ball bearings and strawberries to complete the picture. "We're a really good hockey club, first off," Sutter said, the Sedin Twins and worst NHL offence notwithstanding. At one point, Sutter bragged to reporters that his 2009- '10 roster had the most players who'd scored 20 goals in a season. The problem: It wasn't this season. (Usual Suspects has the winning 6/49 numbers, too, just not in the right draw.)

Sutter's president -- former publisher Ken King-- seemed okay with Sutter's tenuous relationship with reality, declaring his GM can stay in the comfy chair as long as he wants. "We're throwing no bodies under the bus," declared King. Encouraged by his boss tying his fate to his own leaky dinghy, Sutter went all Pully once more to spank reporters calling for his demise. "The reason I've been in the game as long as I have - and been as successful as I have - is because I don't base it on my own feelings." Makes Brian Burke's relationship with the Toronto media look like Shakespeare In Love.

Put 'Em Up: We're about to enter the season when fighting mysteriously disappears from the NHL. Not that the bulk of the TV talking heads who spend the regular season talking about the intrinsic value of fisticuffs and showing endless highlights will tell you. You'll just have to figure it out for yourself.

How irrelevant is fighting to winning? Of the 16 players with more than 15 fighting majors this season, just two-- Vancouver's Darcy Hordichuk and Phoenix's Paul Bissonette-- were on the top 11 clubs in the league. (10 came from non-playoff teams.) Translation: Teams that dedicated significant ice time to fighters were wasting their time. Like the media guys who pretend fighting matters.

Hold That Tiger: Finally, good news for Tiger Woods. the media strategy is working. According to something called Zeta International-- the New York Times says they monitor message boards, blogs and social media posts-- Woods' approval rating spiked on the first day of the Masters. We're not sure if it was the Digging Up Dad Nike commercial or the new shirts he's wearing, but Woods is winning over the undecideds.

"The day before the Masters began," says the Times, "Mr. Woods's online reputation stood at 51 per cent positive and 49 per cent negative... On Friday, the positive figure had soared to 69 per cent and the negative had fallen to 31 per cent." Woods enjoyed a 91 per cent approval before the unpleasantness, but hey, you gotta' walk before you run. Driving... now that's another matter.



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