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Hockey Night In Canada's first high-profile signing of the off-season will be Craig Simpson, who is leaving coaching to resume a broadcasting career as a game analyst at Hockey Night, multiple sources say.

Simpson is expected to quit his job as an Edmonton Oilers assistant coach to work in the booth with play-by-play announcer Jim Hughson.

Insiders view Simpson's addition to Hockey Night, expected to be announced shortly, as a major cornerstone to the rebuilding of the show.

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Although veteran Bob Cole will continue to call games for Hockey Night in 2007-08, working with Harry Neale or Greg Millen, Hughson and Simpson would take on the role as the show's de facto A team.

The move would reunite Hughson and Simpson, who called national cable telecasts on Rogers Sportsnet from 1998 to 2002.

It's not a coincidence that Scott Moore, as head of production for Sportsnet, was responsible for teaming Hughson and Simpson, and now, as head of sports for the CBC, appears to have brought them to Hockey Night.

The show has been criticized for growing old and getting stale. The acquisition of Simpson, 40, would lower the age while adding experience and talent.

Moore refused to comment on the likelihood of Simpson joining the CBC.

Cole, 74, has been given a two-year transitional contract in which his workload for the coming season will be reduced slightly and 2008-09 will be his last. Neale, 70, has signed a one-year deal with a reduced workload.

There is plenty of speculation about what Hockey Night will do with its pregame show and second intermission. Both will be changed, particularly the pregame where there is expected to be more emphasis on commentary and news.

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The status of Hot Stove panelist Pierre LeBrun isn't clear. The Canadian Press hockey writer recently signed a one-year deal to provide commentary and write columns for Rogers Sportsnet, but the contract doesn't preclude his continuing to work for Hockey Night.

There are not a large number of good young hockey journalists in broadcasting. TSN's Darren Dreger is one. So is LeBrun. Hockey Night would do well to keep him.

Hostilities commence

The first shot over the bow was fired by AM640's Jeff Marek yesterday.

"A lot of people are calling in to say, 'I've made the switch,' " Marek said, referring to AM640 Toronto moving himself and Bill Watters to the important afternoon drive-time slot to challenge the Fan590's Bob McCown.

It's a sports-talk radio showdown between the popular McCown and Watters, who also has a strong following in the Toronto market and was once a co-host with McCown at the Fan.

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For its inaugural show yesterday, The Bill Watters Show with Jeff Marek led off by interviewing former Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean, who has put together an acquisition group to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning.

McCown, for the start of his show, discussed the purchase in the first hour. He did produce MacLean for an interview later in the show.

McCown did hit the mark on several of his commentaries in the first hour, one of which consisted of wondering if Scotty Bowman really is qualified to be Toronto Maple Leaf hockey boss. The answer, as McCown suggested, is perhaps not. A brilliant coach, Bowman has been a general manager only once, with the Buffalo Sabres, from 1979-86. He did a poor job and was ultimately fired.

Surprisingly, the Watters show did not produce a big-name guest for its opener. Asked by a listener if former Leaf Tie Domi, with whom Watters has feuded, would appear, the anti-PC Watters said, "Sure, right after I get my hunchback brother straightened out."

The workload of Watters on AM640's noon-hour show, Leafs Lunch, will be reduced. Dreger and Scott Morrison will get more air time.

Beijing streaming

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NBC announced yesterday an exhaustive schedule of live streaming content at the 2008 Beijing Olympics - a total of 2,200 hours.

Will the CBC go heavily on Olympic streaming? Like NBC, it owns domestic broadband rights to Beijing.

"We expect to stream several venues, not sure exactly which yet or how many hours," Moore of the CBC said in an e-mail.

Rogers Sportsnet will provide high-definition television for its remaining 37 Toronto Blue Jays telecasts. Sportsnet has been shooting only the Jays' home games in HD.

Bud Collins, dropped by NBC after 35 years of tennis commentating, has been picked up by ESPN for its Grand Slam coverage. A good move.

Rating the weekend

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EVENT NETWORK VIEWERS SKINNY
Friday
Baseball. Rangers-Jays. Sportsnet 350,000 Above average Jays number wins night.
Football. Blue Bombers-Ticats. TSN 297,000 Below TSN's season average 329,000.
Saturday
Baseball. Rangers-Jays. CBC 298,000 Good audience.
Auto racing. Busch Series Montreal. TSN 152,000 Second largest Busch audience of season.
Auto racing. Busch Series Montreal. RDS 287,000 Huge for French language service.
Football. Stampeders-Eskimos. CBC 444,000 Highest of season on CBC.
Sunday
Auto racing. Hungarian F1. TSN 86,000 Below average.
Auto racing. Nextel Cup. TSN 293,000 Good NASCAR number.
Baseball. Rangers-Jays. CBC 355,000 Second largest of season.
Soccer. Galaxy-Toronto FC. CBC 301,000 Second highest of season for Becks sideline show.
Football. Saints-Steelers TSN 91,000 Minimal pre season interest.
Baseball. Mets-Cubs. Sportsnet 132,000 Good audience for Tom Glavine's 300th win.

whouston@globeandmail.com

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