Hockey is back. And this time, it’s all-Canadian.
Because of the pandemic complicating cross-border travel, the National Hockey League has put its seven Canadian teams into its own division for the 2020-… err, 2021 season. That means more Habs-Leafs games, more Habs-Jets games, more Habs-Canucks games, and no Habs-Bruins or Habs-Sabres or Habs-Capitals games at all before the playoffs.
Not only is this good news ratings-wise for Sportsnet, which likes the all-Canadian matchups and Habs-Leafs in particular, but it’s also good news production-wise, because it means there’s a maximum of three games on Saturday nights featuring Canadian teams, and (unless two of them go long into overtime) no more than two at a time.
So for Hockey Night in Canada this year, Sportsnet can show everything using just CBC and Citytv, and we won’t see any games shuffled to Sportsnet One or Sportsnet 360 when there’s too many scheduling conflicts. This also means Sportsnet has released its entire season schedule with channel assignments, rather than leaving the decision of what channel to put a particular game on up to a few weeks before when it can gauge how excited fans are about the team and what other events it has to show that night.
For Canadiens fans, I’ve put together my annual full-season broadcast schedule, which appears in Saturday’s Montreal Gazette. The story online also includes printable schedules if you want a more portable guide. And I’ve updated my out-of-region viewing guide, for those who face blackouts when trying to watch the Canadiens on TV from western Canada and most of Ontario.
Most of the information is the same (the on-air talent hasn’t changed either), but here’s what’s different this season:
- It’s a 56-game schedule instead of an 82-game schedule. The splits of national vs. regional games is pro-rated, so Sportsnet gets 22 national Habs games (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday evenings) and TSN gets 34 regional games, while TVA Sports gets 15 national Habs games (Saturday nights, plus Wednesday’s season opener) and RDS gets 41 regional ones.
- The Winnipeg Jets have a new radio broadcaster: CJOB has won the rights from TSN Radio. All other broadcasters remain the same for the other six teams.
- UPDATE: Rogers has announced that subscribers to Sportsnet NOW+, the premium tier of its streaming service, will have access to NHL Live and get out-of-market games as well. SN NOW costs $35 a month or $20.83 if you pay for the whole year. Since it also includes all Sportsnet channels, it means you’ll get all NHL games except those available locally on TSN.
I sort of think this is the way the NHL should be anyway. Having a Canadian division and an American division is something that could help many things in the long run. However, it will only work if there are perhaps a couple more Canadian teams to balance things out.
My thought is that done right, the NHL could pretty much count on the NHL playoffs being a cross border situation – one Canadian team, one US team. This could help to keep the playoffs all the way to the finals are relevant to more fans. You cheer your local team, your regional team, your national team as things progress.
For TV, it’s a whole lot easier as well. More often a game, even regional, will be shown in multiple markets. For fans, it is much more likely that they will be able to see their team playing, even if they don’t live in market.
The biggest risk here will be that there may be a lack of interest in the US games. Hopefully enough US games are getting shown into the Canadian market to keep the coverage at least somewhat balanced, otherwise it’s going to be strange.
Dilbert, the only part of this I really take issue with is that the travel becomes nonsensical if you keep these divisions in place. Especially in the environmental era we live it, it’s hard to justify the Leafs, Habs and Senators making multiple trips to Vancouver each season, but none to Buffalo, Boston or Detroit.
They can do it as they are for this season. Making a trip out west and playing 2 or 3 games at a time before moving on to the next city.
I like this season’s format. Creates more of a playoff style game too.
In the longer run, it might be more useful and more reasonable to have a north and south division, where places like Buffalo and Detroit are in the northern division. It would mean a fair bit of east of to West travel, but if the goal is to make it more likely to get a Canada versus US Stanley Cup final, there is no better way.
Why would that be the goal of the NHL?
Canadian NHL teams can only play each other. If this somehow reduces the spread of Covid 19,then it makes sense. If not then its silly.Used to look forward to Habs playing american teams.