The Memorial Cup heads into its decisive phase this week on Rogers Sportsnet. The network gives the Canadian Hockey League a huge promotional boost with its coverage during the tournament, lauding the league as the prime development source for the NHL. Listening to the imbedded media extol the virtues of the CHL system, you'd believe that major-junior hockey is the only viable place for a parent to send his or her son for skills development.
But a cursory glance at the NHL's leaders in points and scoring shows that, outside the Ontario Hockey League, the CHL is hardly a dominant source of the NHL's elite scoring power. For instance, look at the surprising shortage of impact players being developed in the host WHL. Of the NHL's top 55 scorers this season, just four were produced by the WHL - and two them, Jarome Iginla and Patrick Marleau, were produced before 1998.
Granted, the WHL has produced fine defencemen such as Mike Green, Shea Weber and Dion Phaneuf, but the 22 teams of the "Dub" are best known for producing character players who thrive on the third or fourth line - not skilled scorers.
Meanwhile the QMJHL produced just four of the top 55 scorers in 2009-10- two of whom, Vincent Lecavalier and Brad Richards- were produced before 2000. It seems the 60 teams of the CHL throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall without producing many Sidney Crosbys.
The CHL is still a large part of hockey's development system, and the Memorial Cup is a great Canadian tradition. But that's no reason for the media to ignore the reality of Europe and the United States as significant sources of elite talent dominating the top of the NHL's scoring list.
The CBC's lucky number is ... seven. As in, seven games of a Montreal v. Philadelphia Eastern final - plus another seven-gamer in San Jose v. Chicago - will deliver a motherlode for the Mother Corp. As we reported Friday, CBC Sports has already jacked its advertising rates 25 per cent for the next round since the Canadiens' improbable upset of Pittsburgh. Plus it gets all games after the third game in the Western final, too.
The news is not so sweet for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's hockey redoubt in the United States. The elimination of the Penguins robs the league of its last showcase player (no worries, Mr. Commish, the NBA lost LeBron) while the disappearance of Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh eliminates three of the strongest U.S. hockey TV markets. As well, Montreal's appeal might be huge in Canada, but it doesn't move the needle a jot when it comes to U.S. Nielsen ratings. Meaning a challenge to the claim that U.S. ratings are on the rise.
With CBC claiming the entire Habs-Flyers series as well as all games after Game 4 of the Western final, it's a good year to be reaping the first harvest of PPM (portable people meters) ratings. And to garner the explosion in downloads to new platforms such as portable devices and the Internet. CBC's numbers for downloads tripled in the early going for the playoffs compared to last year.
CBC believes that the audience being reached by new media is a virgin market that might not otherwise be tapped by the broadcaster. But even as CBC and TSN celebrate the new markets, there are warning voices cautioning against fragmenting the audience. Ed Goren, the capo of Sports for Fox TV, recently told Sports Business Daily he's concerned that if networks allow too much of their audience to migrate to new platforms, it might cause advertisers on the TV side to reduce their payments.
Considering that Fox pays the NFL a reported $4.3-billion on its current contract, there is a lot of money at stake with the three TV networks and Direct TV's Sunday Ticket. Goren said that leagues must seriously address the issue of killing the golden goose through fragmentation or else "find another sucker" to pay the NFL's demands. Strong words. And, no doubt, a strong bargaining position.