Category Archives: Canadiens

Posted in Canadiens, TV

TVA Sports announces NHL broadcast details

With less than 24 hours until it becomes the official national French-language broadcaster of the National Hockey League, TVA Sports has announced details of its plans for the upcoming season, including which Canadiens games it will air nationally.

The schedule is much less complicated than the one Rogers announced last week. TVA Sports will carry the season opening game on Wednesday, Oct. 8, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And it will carry all 21 Canadiens Saturday night games, for a total of 22. All other games (including all preseason games) will be carried regionally on RDS. (A Saturday afternoon game on Super Bowl weekend is regional and so will be on RDS. It’s the only Saturday game that won’t be broadcast nationally.)

TVA Sports will also broadcast the NHL Winter Classic, all outdoor matches and all playoff games, including the Stanley Cup Final, as well as special programming like next year’s NHL Draft, the NHL Awards and the NHL All-Star Game.

The schedule creates an interesting situation where there are 10 games (mainly Wednesday and Sunday night games) that will air nationally on City and Sportsnet in English but only regionally in French. (We still don’t know how people outside the Canadiens’ region, which ends in eastern Ontario, will be able to watch the team’s regional games, in either language.)

In all, TVA estimates it will have 200 regular-season NHL games on TVA Sports and its soon-to-launch companion channel TVA Sports 2. Add about 75 playoff games and QMJHL games, and that’s lots of hockey

Séguin, Lalime lead broadcast team

TVA also announced the broadcast team for its Canadiens Saturday-night games. As previously announced, Félix Séguin (that one, not that one) will be the play-by-play man for those 22 matches. He’ll be joined by Patrick Lalime as an analyst. Also on the team are hockey insider Renaud Lavoie, who will take a position near the players’ bench, and Elizabeth Rancourt, who will recap other NHL matches (similar to what Andi Petrillo did at Hockey Night in Canada).

Dave Morissette will host TVA Sports’s postgame show.

Fans vote on games

Another thing TVA announced is that it will allow hockey fans to choose which games are broadcast on TVA Sports for some nights. It didn’t specify which nights, but assume it’s those in which it’s not obvious which team would be most popular among viewers.

TVA specifically notes that, when the Canadiens aren’t playing, it will focus on games involving the Canadiens’ rivals, particularly the Leafs and the Bruins, and those of particular interest to Quebecers, including the Colorado Avalanche (because of Patrick Roy) and Pittsburgh Penguins (because of Sidney Crosby). No mention is made of the Tampa Bay Lightning, which was also popular in Quebec but much less so now that Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis are no longer on the team.

TVA says it will announce full details of its NHL schedule by the end of July. It had previously confirmed that it has no plans to put any NHL games on its over-the-air network, even though games will be free-to-air in English on Saturday nights.

Posted in Canadiens

A quantitative analysis of Canadiens draft picks

Friday is the beginning of the National Hockey League entry draft, when the 30 teams select young players, each hoping that they pick out a diamond in the rough and that their pick becomes the next superstar and doesn’t spend the next decade wallowing in minor leagues or get concussed and give up on hockey altogether.

And it’s the time when amateur general managers pontificate, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, on the failed choices of yesteryear, looking further down the list to find players who would turn out to be superstars, but failing to look up the list to find duds that weren’t taken.

I was curious about finding a more quantitative, non-subjective way of evaluating historical draft choices that takes into account both the overlooked superstars and the avoided mistakes. So I thought, why not just compare the Canadiens’ draft pick in a given year with the pick that came just before or just after?

With some help from Hockey DB, I took a look at the three picks before the Canadiens’ first-round selection, and the three picks after, from 1994 to 2013.

Needing some simple metric to determine success, I went with total games played. It’s an incomplete figure, sure, but it also serves as a pretty simple way to separate those who made long careers in the NHL from those who barely or never made it at all.

I score success and failure this way: if the player the Canadiens selected played more regular-season NHL games than two of the three players selected before him, it’s a success. If he plays fewer NHL games than two of the three players selected after him, it’s a failure. If it’s both (or neither), it’s neutral. (In case of ties, the number of career regular-season points breaks the tie.)

Here’s how it looks:

Continue reading

Posted in Canadiens, TV

NHL schedule: Rogers will air 32 Canadiens games nationally in 2014-15

UPDATED with correction on national versus regional games, and TVA Sports details.

The National Hockey League has released its full schedule for 2014-15, and a the same time Rogers Media has announced its national broadcast schedule for the same year.

For Canadiens fans, the schedule for that team is posted here, and as we expected, generally the games will be carried nationally if they play on Wednesday, Saturday or Sunday nights, and regionally otherwise. Rogers will carry a total of 32 Canadiens games nationally — 21 on Saturdays, five on Sundays, five on Wednesdays and one on Thursday.

The exceptions to the general Wed-Sat-Sun rule are the following:

  • A Wednesday night game against the Ducks in Anaheim at 10pm on March 4 is not on Rogers’s schedule.
  • The Saturday matinee game on Super Bowl weekend (Jan. 31, against the Capitals) will be regional, however the Sunday afternoon game the next day (Feb. 1, vs. the Coyotes) is national, and will air on City.
  • A game on Sunday, April 5 at the Panthers at 5pm isn’t on Rogers’s schedule
  • Rogers will broadcast the Thursday, Nov. 13 game between the Canadiens and Bruins at the Bell Centre (it’s listed as being on Sportsnet, but Rogers hasn’t definitively decided which channel it will go on yet).

Also as a general rule:

  • Wednesday night games will be on Sportsnet, except where there are conflicts (none of them affect the Canadiens)
  • Sunday night games will be on City (the exception is Feb. 8, when City is carrying the Grammys), and
  • Saturday night games will be on as many as nine different channels — CBC, City, Sportsnet East/Ontario/West/Pacific, Sportsnet One, Sportsnet 360 and FX Canada. Generally, Rogers has booked five early games on Saturday nights and two late games.

The Canadiens will also be playing seven preseason games (eight if you include a red-vs-white intrasquad game at the Bell Centre). Those games are regional, so will air on RDS but not on Rogers channels unless Rogers picks up those rights in the coming months.

Rogers also has the rights to all playoff games regardless of team, plus special programs like the Winter Classic, NHL draft (starting next year) and NHL All-Star Game.

For other teams in the regular season, Rogers will broadcast:

  • All 82 Vancouver Canucks games (at least 25 nationally)
  • All 82 Edmonton Oilers games (at least 22 nationally)
  • All 82 Calgary Flames games (at least 22 nationally)
  • 22 Winnipeg Jets games (all nationally)
  • 56 Toronto Maple Leafs games (at least 40 nationally)
  • 29 Ottawa Senators games (all nationally)*

*Sportsnet said it would be 28 games in its NHL schedule preview on Sunday night, but a 29th was added at the last minute, Rogers tells me. All 29 games are now listed on the Senators’ schedule online.

Despite Rogers’s “no blackouts” promise, there will be blackouts for many regional games. Sportsnet president Scott Moore says “We have the ability to take a limited number of our regional games national.” But the other regional games, whether they air on Rogers or non-Rogers channels, will be blacked out in the rest of the country.

For most of the schedule, Saturday night games are listed as being on “Hockey Night in Canada”, because Rogers hasn’t decided which channel each game will be on. But looking at what has already been decided for October, it’s clear that Rogers gives the Toronto Maple Leafs the priority. CBC will be carrying the Leafs whenever they’re playing on Saturday night, leaving City for the Canadiens, Senators or Jets. The October schedule shows the Canadiens on City on Oct. 11 and Oct. 25, with the Senators on Sportsnet channels, but on Oct. 18, Ottawa gets to be shown on City and the Canadiens drop to Sportsnet.

Sportsnet's regional channels will be split on Oct. 11

Sportsnet’s regional channels will be split on Oct. 11

Unlike CBC, which split the main network regionally on Saturday nights so everyone could see their home team, under Rogers that won’t be happening anymore. If splits are necessary, such as on the first Saturday, it will be the Sportsnet channels that break up geographically.

So on one hand, there will be twice as many games available on free over-the-air television for Canada’s major cities, but on the other hand some regions won’t have their home team on free TV, such as the Senators on Oct. 11 or the Canadiens on Oct. 18.

What about the other 50 games?

Having 32 games airing nationally in English means there are 50 games that will not be. It’s not clear at this point what happens to those games in English. TSN had a deal to air some Canadiens regional games last season, but no announcement has been made about regional rights for the coming season. If Rogers picks up those rights, it could mean more games being broadcast nationally. If TSN does, it’ll be more complicated. We’ll see.

TSN also has regional rights to 60 Winnipeg Jets games, 10 Toronto Maple Leafs games, going up to 26 in 2015-16, and 52 Ottawa Senators games. RDS also has regional rights to 40 Senators games.

What about out-of-region fans?

One question I’ve been trying to get Rogers to answer and it hasn’t yet is how fans outside a team’s home region will be able to catch that team’s regional games.

Rogers promised no blackouts when it announced the 12-year, $5.2-billion NHL deal, but it seems that isn’t actually true. While some more games will air nationally, anything that’s still regional must be blacked out elsewhere.

The Canadiens’ region includes all of Quebec and Atlantic Canada, and Ontario east of Belleville and Pembroke (it’s the same region as that is covered by Sportsnet East). So how do all the Canadiens fans in Toronto watch Thursday night games? It’s still unclear. They might be forced to buy NHL Centre Ice, or maybe Rogers has some other solution for them. We’ll probably get more details when the regional schedule comes out in the coming weeks.

“We are still discussing how we deal with Centre Ice and Game Centre Live,” Rogers tells me. “Both products will continue to be available. We expect to have some answers on that well before the start of the season.”

In French

On the French side, where TVA Sports has the national rights and RDS has all Canadiens regional games, the breakdown is different. We know that TVA will get 22 games, mainly Saturday nights, and RDS will get 60 games. We do know that RDS will be blacked out in southern Ontario and western Canada during those Canadiens games.

UPDATE (June 30): TVA Sports has announced its plans: It will carry the season opener on Wednesday, July 8, as well as all 21 Saturday night games (but not the Saturday afternoon matinee game on Super Bowl weekend), for a total of 22, plus all playoff games.

Don’t blame Rogers

Since news of the schedule came out, I’ve seen a lot of anger directed at Rogers, particularly from Canadiens fans outside of the home region, who will no longer be able to see every game on RDS.

The anger at Rogers is misplaced, though. The real group that should be blamed is the NHL. Rogers would love nothing better than to take all 82 games of each Canadian team national, but the NHL breaks up its TV rights into national and regional games, and imposes blackouts outside of a team’s broadcast region. What’s more, it’s the teams, not the league, that sign the regional rights deals. This is why the NHL dealt with Rogers and TVA, while the Canadiens dealt with RDS, and the Senators and Jets with TSN.

In English, things haven’t changed much in regard to blackouts. TSN Habs was not available in Toronto or western Canada (or, for that matter, to Videotron subscribers), and western teams’ regional games were blacked out on Sportsnet West and Pacific to subscribers here.

What’s different in French is that we now have competition, and the national and regional rights to Canadiens games are held by two different companies. (The decision to split the rights was the Canadiens, who decided to sell them separately to RDS after TVA Sports picked up the national rights.) RDS no longer has the ability to nationalize all its regional games, so we have blackouts.

If you want the system to change, tell the NHL to overhaul its TV rights system in Canada. But don’t expect that to happen before 2026.

UPDATE: A petition has started imploring Rogers to not black out RDS in western Canada during Canadiens games, but as I discuss above, it’s not Rogers that’s forcing this blackout (though they might be able to help stop it if they really want).

Posted in Canadiens, My articles, TV

The Rogers/TVA/NHL deal: What we know, and what we don’t

Updated May 6, 2014, with the latest info.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

TVA press conference on NHL deal. Scott Moore of Rogers and Gary Bettman of the NHL join by videoconference from Toronto.

It’s the biggest media announcement of the year: A $5.2-billion, 12-year broadcast rights deal between Rogers Communications and the National Hockey league. Included in it are side deals with the CBC (which will air games but won’t get revenue from them or handle their staffing) and TVA, which becomes the official French-language broadcaster.

We’ve suspected for a while that the CBC wouldn’t be able to afford to keep its rights to Saturday night hockey and the Stanley Cup playoffs. But what’s most surprising about this deal is that Bell Media, which owns TSN and RDS, is also a loser here.

A lot of details are still to be decided. We’ll start knowing that in the coming weeks and months.

Here’s a story I wrote for The Gazette about the French side of this deal and how it will affect Canadiens broadcasts. Pat Hickey also has his thoughts on the deal.

In short, here’s what we know and what we don’t know about this deal so far:

  • CBC will continue to air Saturday night and playoff hockey for at least four years. And the Hockey Night in Canada brand will continue. But that’s about it. Those programs will be run by Rogers, not CBC. Rogers will pay all the expenses, but also get all the revenue. (Which makes me wonder why CBC is bothering.) This puts the future of personalities like Ron MacLean and Don Cherry up in the air. It will also mean a huge loss of income to the CBC, which means cuts will have to be made elsewhere.
  • TVA gets 22 Canadiens regular-season games a year: TVA will get all national games, which includes all games that air on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday nights. (Afternoon games on those days are not considered national.) Whether these air on the TVA network or TVA Sports is still up in the air.
  • RDS gets 60 Canadiens regular-season games a year, plus all preseason games: But these will be available only regionally. So people west of Pembroke and Belleville, Ontario will see RDS blacked out during Canadiens games it airs. It’s unclear if Rogers, which has out-of-market rights, will provide another way for fans to access the games, and if TVA will be involved.
  • There will still be some NHL hockey on TSN. The channel has the rights to all regional Winnipeg Jets games through 2021, 52 Ottawa Senators regional games for the next 12 years, as well as some Maple Leafs games in the coming season and beyond. It currently airs some Canadiens regional games, but the future of that deal is unclear. Rogers retains both national and regional rights to all teams west of Saskatchewan.
  • TVA gets all playoff games and all special-event NHL programming. The NHL draft, NHL awards, Winter Classic and NHL All-Star Game will now air on TVA Sports. TSN can keep its TradeCentre and Free Agent Frenzy specials, because those are news broadcasts and aren’t subject to exclusivity deals.
  • TVA will launch TVA Sports 2. This will be a multiplex of the TVA Sports channel, which means it will share a licence with TVA Sports. It’s a relationship similar to TSN/TSN2, RDS/RDS2, Teletoon and The Movie Network, where channels come in groups instead of individually. But TVA Sports 2′s availability will depend on deals Quebecor signs with distributors. (Having it on Videotron is a given, of course.)
  • The conventional TVA network won’t air hockey games. New Quebecor CEO Pierre Dion made it official on May 6. The company plans to use Canadiens games to push subscriptions to TVA Sports, trying to put it above 2 million (even though the games will be on free TV in English). Putting Canadiens games on TVA would eliminate the biggest incentive to subscribe to TVA Sports, since weeknight games will still be on RDS. It’s unclear if this is absolute, or if some games (and/or playoff or Stanley Cup final games) could still air on TVA.
  • City TV will air Saturday night hockey. It will be called “Hockey Night in Canada on City.” But the details, and how they will decide which games air on City and which ones air on CBC, are unknown. There are also musings about Sunday night hockey on the City TV network.
  • Rogers and TVA retain mobile and other video streaming rights to all games. Streaming will probably be available, but likely through distributors and only to those who subscribe to the linear TVA Sports channel. On the English side, Rogers gets all the online and mobile rights, including the Saturday night games that air on CBC. This means an end to online streaming on CBC.ca for people wanting to catch out-of-market games. RDS’s deal with the Canadiens for rights to regional games does not include any mobile or streaming rights.
  • Rogers takes control of NHL Centre Ice, NHL GameCenter Live and will sell Canadian ads for NHL.com.
  • No changes to radio. Radio rights are unaffected. Cogeco announced last week a five-year extension to 2018-19 that will see Canadiens games continue to air on 98.5 FM in Montreal, 93.3 FM in Quebec City, 106.9 FM in Trois-Rivières and 107.7 FM in Sherbrooke. The deal for English radio rights for the Canadiens remains with Bell Media until 2018-19, which means they will continue to air on TSN 690.
  • Bell keeps The Hockey Theme.
  • Ron MacLean and Don Cherry are returning, with George Stroumboulopoulos as host of the new Rogers-run Hockey Night, and Sportsnet’s Daren Millard and Jeff Marek joining the core broadcast team.
  • The National Hockey League Board of Governors has approved the deal. Though the Toronto Star reports that the Maple Leafs abstained from the vote, apparently because of internal conflicts between its two main owners, Rogers and Bell.

What has been reported but not confirmed:

  • Details of the negotiations. Though this Maclean’s story has some general idea (Maclean’s is owned by Rogers) and the Toronto Star put together a timeline of the talks between Rogers and CBC. There’s also this story talking to Rogers executives.
  • How much TVA is paying Rogers. No comments, despite repeated questions. We know that the Rogers deal is for more than $300 million a year, and that it includes the sublicensed deals. The Globe and Mail reports it was $120 million a year, though because they lost regional Canadiens games to RDS, that number has dropped to $52 million a year, reports Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc. To give some perspective, TVA Sports’s entire budget for 2012 was $30 million.
  • How much Bell (TSN) and CBC were willing to pay. The CBC said it couldn’t meet the high bidding of its competitors in a fiscally responsible way, and they’re probably right about that. Radio-Canada’s Martin Leclerc reports that Bell’s final offer was $5 billion, very close to the Rogers bid, and that Bell wasn’t given a chance to match what Rogers offered.
  • How much RDS is paying the Canadiens for its regional deal. Martin Leclerc of Radio-Canada says RDS’s deal for 60 regional games a year is worth $68 million a season, or about $1.1 million a game.

What either hasn’t been decided yet or hasn’t been told to us:

  • How English regional Canadiens games will be split up. In English, TSN carries some Canadiens games regionally on a special channel. It’s unclear what will happen with them next season.
  • How out-of-market games will be distributed. The NHL’s deal with Rogers says there won’t be regional blackouts for the games Rogers owns rights for. But there are still regional rights deals. So I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. Rogers owns NHL Centre Ice and out-of-market games, so we could see a different situation than we’re used to. It seems clear that games carried on Rogers won’t be regionally restricted, but for those carried by its competitors, it’s unclear. Rogers has said it’s too early to tell what they will do with these rights.
  • What happens to hockey on CBC after four years. This deal includes a strange agreement with CBC that sees the games continue to air on the public broadcaster and carry the Hockey Night in Canada branding, but under the control of Rogers, not the CBC. This means the CBC doesn’t have to worry for now about filling Saturday nights on their schedule. But otherwise there’s no real advantage here. And because Rogers has its own over-the-air television network, it doesn’t really need CBC, except to reach areas of the country where City doesn’t have local stations. But Rogers says the plan is not to phase out the CBC, and the deal will probably be renewed unless there’s a dramatic shift in the way people watch television.
  • What on-air talent will look like at TVA Sports. TVA Sports still has time to poach more personalities from RDS. But after losing Michel Bergeron and Félix Séguin to TVA, RDS says it has multi-year deals with its remaining on-air personalities.
  • What happens to Hockey Night In Canada personalities like Elliotte Friedman, Andi Petrillo, Bob Cole, Jim Hughson, Craig Simpson, Kelly Hrudey, Scott Oake, Cassie Campbell-Pascall, David Amber, PJ Stock, Kevin Weekes and Glenn Healey. Some have other jobs within CBC or other sports media, but others could end up as free agents to be picked up by TSN or Sportsnet.
  • The future of shows like 24CH: These aren’t broadcast rights deals, but they are deals between broadcasters and hockey teams, so you can imagine that there will be more such deals with TVA and fewer with RDS. The next season of a 24CH-like show could be airing on Quebecor-owned channels.
  • How plans for the Nordiques are affected. Quebecor has made no secret of its desire to bring the National Hockey League back to Quebec City. TVA’s Pierre Dion wouldn’t make any comments about the Nordiques today. But while this deal is great news for TVA, and national rights to a theoretical Quebec City franchise would likely be included in the TVA deal, this is probably bad news for the Nordiques for two reasons. First, it means that TVA no longer needs another NHL team to drive subscriptions to its sports channel. And second, revenue sharing on this national deal means that every NHL team becomes several million dollars a year richer. Even with an inevitable salary cap hike, this will mean less pressure for struggling teams to sell to new owners who would relocate them.
  • What happens to rights for other sports. This deal will mean a huge shift in programming, which will undoubtedly have consequences. TVA and Sportsnet will have less money for other sports like UFC, MLS, NBA and baseball. And TSN/RDS will be desperate to add high-value content to replace lost hockey games. We could see some of these rights go back to Bell. A first step has already been taken with Bell winning rights to 4pm NFL games from Rogers.
  • How many jobs are lost or gained. CBC has said there will be job losses as a result of this deal. (This story explores the consequences for the CBC in more depth) and the loss of hockey was a major reason for 657 full-time-equivalent job cuts announced in April 2014. For the rest, we don’t know yet, and a full accounting might never be possible with 100% accuracy.
  • How much more consumers will have to pay for Sportsnet and TVA Sports. Neither Rogers nor Quebecor can simply absorb the extra costs in this deal. Ad revenue will surely go up, and they’ll be creative about platforms, but expect both companies to take a harder line during negotiations with distributors. TVA Sports gets about $5 a year on average from each of its 1.6 million subscribers, compared to RDS, which gets $30 a year on average from 3.5 million subscribers (for both RDS and RDS2). Sportsnet gets $17 a year per subscriber (for the regional channels, which doesn’t include Sportsnet One, Sportsnet World or Sportsnet 360), plus about $10 a year from its 6 million Sportsnet One subscribers. TSN (which includes TSN2) gets $26 a year from its 9.2 million subscribers. Expect the gap to narrow significantly as deals come up for renewal.
  • Who will be carrying TVA Sports by next fall. The big players in Quebec all have the channel: Bell Fibe, Shaw Direct, Videotron and Cogeco, plus Telus and Rogers. But major players like Shaw cable, MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink still don’t have it. Francophone Canadiens fans outside Quebec will have more trouble, as will anyone with analog cable.
  • How much money (if any) Rogers and TVA Sports will make on this deal. That, of course, is the biggest question, and the one nobody can answer. Analysts take a lukewarm look at this deal, neither loving it so much (because of its high cost) nor hating it so much (because of all the benefits it brings). All we can say for sure is that this is a big gamble, and both broadcasters will need to be very creative to make it work financially.

A petition has already started to ask — well, it doesn’t say who it’s asking, but presumably the NHL — to reverse its decision and put Canadiens games back on RDS. This obviously won’t go anywhere. The NHL isn’t going to walk away from a $5.2-billion deal.

What’s funny about this is that the reaction to RDS losing the Canadiens is similar to the reaction when it won Canadiens rights in the first place. Before the 2002-03 season, Saturday night games aired on Radio-Canada. When RDS picked up the rights to the entire Canadiens package, there was nationwide outrage. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even went to the point of demanding Radio-Canada explain itself in front of a hearing. The summer 2002 controversy led to a deal between Radio-Canada and RDS to air Saturday games on RadCan, but eventually all 82 regular-season Canadiens games became exclusive to RDS.

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

(Some awesome pun involving the words “Red” or “Fisher”)

Updated June 20 with link to Ken Dryden’s story in the Globe and Mail.

The news hit pretty suddenly on Friday morning. In fact, I heard about it on CFCF’s noon newscast, having just woken up. Red Fisher, who has covered the Montreal Canadiens for more than half a century for the Montreal Star and The Gazette, has retired at the age of a billion and three (or, more accurately, 85).

There’s no farewell column, no big party. He’s not even giving interviews. Other media who wanted to report on the end of this long career had to settle for talking to some of Fisher’s friends and colleagues. Dave Stubbs, in particular, was busy talking to various media while preparing his own story on Fisher’s departure. It’s the only one I’m aware of that quotes Fisher directly speaking after his retirement was announced.

Fisher is a legend in more than just his hockey writing. He has a reputation as a friendly curmudgeon, who wouldn’t go after players unnecessarily but wouldn’t acknowledge anyone’s existence until they proved themselves worthy of it. The list of respected figures in Canadiens history who lauded Fisher speaks to the man’s reputation.

Even though I work at the same paper, I’ve never spoken to him in person. Sports writers in general spend little time in the office, and Fisher even less. We’ve conversed over the phone, but by “conversed” I mean he called to confirm that his postgame column had arrived by email and after a quick reply of “yeah, I got it” we hung up.

There are many stories of younger (and by that I mean under 60) colleagues at The Gazette that involve the elder sportsman uttering the words “who the f*** is …” – I don’t think I even reached that level. Though I remember the first time I saw him file a story that had my name in the address list. I imagined him typing my email in and wondering who the heck I was.

Everyone knew who Red Fisher was, though. For years, his reputation was such that there was a column devoted to him, the only column devoted to writing about another columnist. Of course, that column was Mike Boone’s Eeeee-mail, and it wasn’t so much writing about Fisher as it had some fun at the man’s expense (consistently referring to him as the Living Legend of Sports Journalism or LLSJ). But still, I can only wish for status like that someday.

Fisher’s refusal to give interviews is unusual in today’s hypermediatized world, but not so much for him. Fisher wasn’t the type to appear on radio or television regularly, chatting with the TSN hockey panel or giving his take once a week on CKGM’s morning show. Even though his reputation and wealth of knowledge about Canadiens history would make him a fantastic guest, he’s said no to such requests from those broadcasters and others who haven’t long ago given up trying to get him.

There are some who say Fisher retired 10 years too late, that his relevance had waned significantly in the past few years. There are points in favour of this argument. He wasn’t the scoop machine he used to be, and many of the big announcements come via RDS, TSN, La Presse or some of the younger front-line journalists who cover the Canadiens, if they beat the official announcement at all. Fisher stopped travelling with the Canadiens years ago – Pat Hickey does day-to-day team coverage. And the weekly Red Line page sometimes felt more like a roundup of hockey news reported elsewhere than anything original from Fisher.

But Fisher was still influential, and he could still write things that made a difference. In 2008, Fisher won a National Newspaper Award - the most prestigious Canadian award for this industry – for a column saying the Canadiens should not retire the jersey of Patrick Roy (they did anyway, of course, but Fisher’s column provoked a lot of discussion). It’s hard to argue someone has one foot in the grave when he’s winning an award many of his colleagues only dream of one day getting once in their careers.

It’s unclear if Fisher will continue to contribute occasional freelance pieces for The Gazette. He was the go-to guy for Canadiens-related obituaries, for example. But it is clear that the Saturday Red Line is history, and nobody should be expecting a regular column in its place.

He’s done.

Coverage

See also

UPDATE: Mike Cohen says he moved this resolution at Côte St. Luc city council Monday evening:

Whereas Red Fisher is a longtime resident of Côte Saint-Luc.

Whereas Red Fisher has covered the Montreal sports scene for The Montreal Star and The Montreal Gazette, specifically the Canadiens for the past 56 years.

Whereas Red Fisher Fisher won the National Newspaper Award for sports writing in 1971 and 1991 and has been nominated for that award on two other occasions.

Whereas Red Fisher was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Sports Media Canada in 1999.

Whereas Red Fisher is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Whereas Red Fisher last week announced his retirement.

It was

MOVED BY COUNCILLOR Mike Cohen

AND SECONDED BY COUNCILLOR Allan  J. Levine

AND RESOLVED

THAT Council wish Red Fisher the very best in his retirement and that a formal letter of good wishes be sent to him signed by the mayor and council.

“I will now come back to council with some recommendations as to how we can further honour Red Fisher,” he says.

Posted in Canadiens, Montreal, Radio

CJAD loses Habs broadcasts to Team 990

It was the worst-kept secret in the radio industry: Bell-owned Team 990 has secured the English-language radio broadcast rights to Canadiens games for the next seven seasons.

No financial details have been announced for the deal, but it’s clear that the station is putting some serious dough into this contract, because losing out again to Astral-owned CJAD was simply not an option. You can’t have an all-sports radio station that doesn’t carry broadcasts of the most popular sports team.

No announcement has been made about the play-by-play team yet, most likely because one hasn’t been decided. Still, rumours are spreading wildly, everything from Shaun Starr and Elliott Price to having the CJAD team move over to using the TSN play-by-play to bringing back Dick Irvin and the reanimated corpse of Danny Gallivan.

Okay, I made that last one up.

Convergence!

Though it’s great news that this little station that could has scored this contract, it’s a bit worrisome for critics of Canada’s media oligopolies. When Mike Boone wrote about the deal a couple of weeks ago, he said it was helped significantly by a deal Bell signed for regional English-language TV rights on TSN. Bell’s business agreements with the Canadiens are many (though Bell itself does not own the team), from the naming rights to its arena and practice facility to its French-language TV rights to mobile rights to broadcasts.

This deal takes Bell one step further toward doing with the Canadiens what Quebecor wants to do with a Quebec City hockey team and what Rogers wants to do with most of the professional sports coming out of Toronto.

There’s also, as one Team 990 personality told me during their recent 10-year anniversary party, the problem that the station might be restricted a bit in what it can say about the team. Doing impressions of Jacques Martin might not fly so well when you’re the official broadcaster.

What about CJAD?

Though it certainly can deal with not having the Canadiens easier than Team 990 did, CJAD is still going to have to find a way to fill hundreds of broadcast hours every season. And they’re going to have to deal with the loss of advertising that comes with losing such a big audience-getter. There’s no word yet on what they’re planning to do.

There’s a story in The Gazette and some discussion in the Radio in Montreal group.

UPDATE: Some comments from the peanut gallery on Hockey Inside/Out.

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Montreal

Koivu fan #1

I’ve never been too crazy about people who carry giant signs into sporting events, particularly those whoring themselves out to the television rights-holders by trying to get the initials “TSN” or “RDS” or “NBC” into a “go team” message.

But let’s give a nod to the anonymous front-row fan holding the “Koivu #1” sign, who combined good placement with perfect timing and is seeing that sign everywhere.

(The photo was captured by at least three photographers: Shaun Best of Reuters, Graham Hughes of Canadian Press, and Pierre Obendrauf of The Gazette).

There was a Facebook campaign (and others, I’m sure) for fans to vote Saku Koivu the first star of the night. It would have succeeded, except Koivu took a late penalty that led to the tying Canadiens goal (he was also in the box for their first goal – perhaps we should add two to his Canadiens assists total?). Under the three stars rules, the person who scores the winner in overtime or a shootout is automatically the first star.

Of course, none of that really mattered. The fans got to show their appreciation, and see Captain K on Montreal ice, perhaps for the last time as an NHL player.

Posted in Canadiens, Media

Trades are killer on magazine news cycles

L’actualité this week recently had a profile of Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak teased big from its cover.

On the cover: “Que réserve l’avenir du gardien du Canadien?”

And in the piece itself:

Son mari envisage une seule « folie » : faire fi de sa peur de l’avion et s’envoler pour Montréal si Jaro se rend en finale de la Coupe Stanley l’année prochaine. Et, qui sait, en profiter pour voir un défilé rue Sainte-Catherine…

Thankfully, there’s little chance of that now.

There’s also a photo gallery of Halak’s hometown of Bratislava, Slovakia, and a blog post about Halak’s trade to St. Louis to downplay somewhat how much the magazine is two weeks behind the news.

Posted in Canadiens

Stand By Your Habs

Christopher Pennington, author of this pretty good (and bilingual!) Habs anthem from 2008 (available on iTunes), has teamed up withFelicity Hamer of United Steelworkers of Montreal to produce this parody of Stand By Your Man.

The timing couldn’t be better. Today is a critical game.

via Amy Luft.

Posted in Canadiens, Media, Photos

Back on the bandwagon, folks

Finally, an FTQ campaign I can support.

Speaking of Canadiens pride, local musician Daniel Iorio has written another song about his beloved Habs. This one, keeping particularly current, name-drops Gazette sports scribe Pat Hickey, whose car was vandalized by crazed Flyers fans and has been getting a lot of attention for it.

Listen to The Cheese of Philadelphia:

Posted in Canadiens

Je déteste les Flyers

Welcome to the party, Les Justiciers. (They brought us this last year.)

You know, I was rooting for a Bruins win in the last round. Partly because coming back from 3-0 would mean stealing the Canadiens’ Cinderella status. Partly because the Canadiens and Bruins have such a rich history. Partly because it was time to take revenge for last year. Partly because I thought our chances were better against them.

But I’m learning to appreciate the value of a Canadiens-Flyers series. We can take revenge for 2008. The matchup has already been billed as Cinderella vs. Cinderella, and made history as the first 7th vs. 8th matchup since the conference system was setup.

And, because the Flyers fans can be just as much assholes as Canadiens fans, it feels good to hate them.

By the end of this series, the streets of Philadelphia will be orange … with blood

Blood mixed with urine, I guess.

Posted in Canadiens, Montreal

We need a bigger bandwagon

You can tell your team is going somewhere when other people try to take credit for it.

The Toronto Star is grasping at whatever straws they can find to attach their city to our team. And both Toronto and the United States are taking credit for Michael Cammalleri.

But that’s the way it is when you’ve gone from being the underdog to the favourite. Even though technically Philadelphia has the (ever so slightly) better record and home ice advantage, the pundits are finally calling it for the Habs:

Canadiens in four

Canadiens in six

Canadiens in seven

Flyers in seven

Flyers in six

Posted in Canadiens, Montreal, Photos

What a night

7pm: I get off the metro train at Lucien-L’Allier station. The platform is flooded with red Habs jerseys.

Crowd gathers in parking lot as Game 7 begins

7:07pm: I arrive at the parking lot outside the Bell Centre, which has been designated as a celebration area by the Montreal police. A giant screen is showing RDS, and the speakers have plenty of volume for people to hear. The lot is mostly empty, unlike the Bell Centre itself, but a crowd is slowly forming.

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