Dear CBC and those responsible for Hockey Night in Canada,
I’ve been watching Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday nights since before I could even walk or skate. Undoubtedly, Hockey Night in Canada is legendary, as both a radio show on CBC Radio from 1931 to 1976, as well as a TV program that has been around since 1952. In present times, there are always plenty of televised NHL games to watch on any given week, thanks to major networks like TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, speciality channels like Leafs TV and the NHL Network, and of course the smörgåsbord that is Center Ice Package. Yet HNIC is still a dear establishment to myself, and likely to the majority of hockey fans in this country. Its tradition and attention to hockey detail still cannot be beat.
The fact that I hold HNIC in such high regard causes me some remorse to say that I believe there to be a glaring problem with it. I’m well aware that the first game on Saturday nights is traditionally a Toronto Maple Leafs game. The Leafs must have a lot of influence such that the NHL generates a schedule that ensures that the Leafs play at 7PM Eastern every Saturday evening. Since HNIC is a “coast to coast” broadcast, the entire country sees the Leafs in the evenings’ first game.
Since the 1966-67 season, the Leafs have not won the Stanley Cup, and for the most part they haven’t been all that competitive. Yet they continue to be the highest-grossing NHL team in the league. The fact that they are a Canadian team in the country’s largest market surely plays a massive role in this. However, in terms of entertainment value, the Leafs have been a painful team to watch in recent years. As a hockey fan, I enjoy watching good hockey, and Leafs games are not good hockey. The team is atrocious. All the while, the CBC still insists on calling the program Hockey Night in Canada, when “Hockey Night in Toronto” would be more apt. And I say this as a person residing in southern Ontario (aka: “Leafs Nation”).
There are currently six NHL teams based in Canadian cities: Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The second game of the night on HNIC broadcasts at least one of the three teams in western Canada (Canucks, Flames or Oilers), providing variety each week. Yet HNIC‘s first game of the night is always a Leafs game, even if one or both of the other two eastern Canada teams (Ottawa and Montreal) are playing. Until recently, francophone CBC affiliates showed Montreal Canadiens games on La Soirée du Hockey; why that doesn’t continue to this day, I’m not entirely sure. Since I’d like to see entertaining hockey, I’d much rather watch a Sens or Habs game now, than a Leafs game. Both Ottawa and Montreal have strong teams who are exciting to watch and have some star power. The Leafs, on the other hand, are a dismal team bound to miss the playoffs again, and are not very enjoyable to watch on most nights. To add, because the CBC is a public broadcasting network, Canadian tax payers finance it. By constantly being subjected to the lowly Leafs each Saturday evening, I believe that we, the Canadian tax payers, are not getting good value for our hard-earned dollars.
I propose a simple solution: treat Saturday evening’s first game the same way the second game is treated. Since the Saturday evenings that the Canucks/Flames/Oilers are televised on HNIC are varied, the Leafs/Senators/Canadiens should be treated the same way. The staggering number of Leafs fans would be on equal footing with Sens and Habs fans in terms of their favourite team’s games broadcast schedule, and there also are the other aforementioned networks capable of showing Leafs games. My proposed solution, or a similar one, seems fair and would hopefully ensure that Saturday evenings will truly continue to be a hockey night in Canada.
Chris Bellini, a hockey fan and tax payer