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Heavy traffic on the northbound Don Valley Parkway as it heads towards Wynford Dr.PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Fred Lum)
Heavy traffic on the northbound Don Valley Parkway as it heads towards Wynford Dr.PHOTO BY FRED LUM/ THE GLOBE AND MAIL (Fred Lum)

Usual Suspects

Searching for sports radio's morning drive host Add to ...

You can eliminate Mike Richards as host of The FAN 590's morning-drive show in Toronto. The station's first choice to succeed Don Landry and Gord Stellick has turned down its final offer (Gary Bettman probably wouldn't have liked the final year anyhow). For now, Richards - a Toronto native who has worked at several stations in southern Ontario - will remain at The FAN's sister station in Calgary, where he has increased the ratings from test pattern to third or fourth in his demographic in five years.

Plan B now goes into effect, someone willing to work for The FAN's budget figure and get up at 4 a.m. Having let so much time pass since removing the previous hosts last spring, time is also of the essence, another issue in the Richards' decision. The FAN wanted someone ready to go Tuesday. Clearly that won't happen if the station wishes to do any production prep on the new show. FAN program director Don Kollins confirmed the development with Usual Suspects but offered no comment on a possible solution.

Purple Hayes

Meanwhile, over at Toronto's AM 640, Bill Hayes has taken over the chair left vacant on Bill Watters' afternoon-drive show when Greg Brady lit out for The FAN. Hayes is a journeyman voice, and it will be interesting to see whether he keeps up with the garrulous Watters, the star of the show, on issues. Thursday, he was straining to stay with Watters as they discussed the NHLPA. AM 640 pulled back from its hockey commitment last spring, cancelling Leafs Lunch. Hayes, brother of Q107's John Derringer, represents an inexpensive option, not a bold direction for the team's voice. It remains to be seen how the long-term commitment plays out.

Channel This

Since the Ilya Kovalchuk arbitration decision, anything seems possible at the NHL. So here goes another one: The league doesn't think its NHL Channel has enough edge. Read that again. Not enough edge. Typically, the NHL has greeted edgy journalism the way Nik Khabibulin greets another breathalyzer. Tweaking the collective nose of the league has usually invited a biblical wrath of the Ozymandias on Sixth Avenue.

But it's a new day at the NHL. Okay, it's Friday, but that's a start. To key the change, league broadcasting and media supremo John Collins has hired an old compatriot, Charles Coplin, from the NFL Network as VP of content to put teeth into the NHL Channel, which the league co-owns in Canada with TSN and Toronto's Insight Productions. Coplin has, among other things, produced the Super Bowl halftime shows and other NFL special events.

He's considered a substantial guy. So Coplin takes over production of the cable channel from the TSN suits in an attempt to make it stickier for American viewers with the breaking stories and thoughtful analysis seen on NHL.com. As we said previously, the sleepy format of on-the-fly highlights and archival footage was fine in Canada, which is already well served (overserved?) when it comes to hockey talk.

But in the U.S. - object of Gary Bettman's desire - the NHL Network has missed the mark since its 2007 launch. Compared with MLB TV (and when will someone in Canada agree to carry it?), the NHL Network was safe, secure and deadly boring even for hockey fans who can't get their fix elsewhere. Coplin's assignment is to make the NHL Network look more like MLB TV or the NFL Network and less like a community access nostalgia fest for the 10 million U.S. homes who can receive the channel on Comcast.

That means becoming a site where people turn for news and content. MLB TV spent lavishly to get Bob Costas, Peter Gammons, Ken Rosenthal, Tom Verducci and other established journalists to do exactly that. Will the NHL open its wallet to attract people who can break stories and attract eyeballs in the U.S., to say nothing of Canada? And will it touch on the kinds of stories that usually send commissioner Gary into Riddler mode?

Both Collins and Coplin were not available to discuss the changes.

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