This has not been the best of seasons for Don Cherry and Coach’s Corner. The season began with Grapes viciously insulting three former NHL enforcers – Chris Nilan, Stu Grimson and Jim Thomson – calling them “pukes” for weighing into the debate about fighting in the league. He then had to make a public apology on Coach’s Corner a couple of weeks later, admitting he got a lot of things wrong.
Then came the report from Bruce Dowbiggin in the Globe and Mail last month that several Canadian NHL teams were super unhappy with Coach’s Corner and Hockey Night in Canada because of its navel-gazing all-Leafs all-the-time bias. I detailed that conflict in this very space at the time, wondering aloud how our public broadcaster could happily air a show that made no secret of its distaste for my beloved Montreal Canadiens. This is called a weird approach to public broadcasting.
Now the just-announced big cuts to CBC have folks once again wondering if it might not be time to make one significant budget cut – and toss the highly-paid Cherry overboard. Dowbiggin has another piece in the Friday Globe speculating about this.
On CBC Radio One Montreal morning show Daybreak Thursday, host Mike Finnerty asked his boss, CBC CEO Hubert Lacroix, if maybe Coach’s Corner had reached its past-due date.
“A lot of people have different views about Don Cherry,” replied Lacroix. “He has his supporters and his detractors. We’ll see over the next months what we do about this.”
To me, that was a really telling answer. You notice how Lacroix did not leap to the defense of hockey’s most famous curmudgeon. If he was really 100-percent behind Cherry, he would’ve said the man with the funniest suits in hockey was here to stay, period. But he didn’t. He said we’re re-evaluating the situation. Very interesting.
Fact is CBC is in a real bind with Cherry and Hockey Night in Canada. NHL hockey is CBC’s most lucrative propety. It generates all kinds of cash, money they need more than ever now that they’re facing a shortfall of $150 million over the next three years. But there are more and more signs that the League is fed up with Cherry’s prehistoric views on the game and that the Canadian teams outside Toronto are just as fatigued with Hockey Night in Canada’s lack of respect for them.
On the media conference call Wednesday with Lacroix and CBC veepee of English services Kirstine Stewart, I asked Stewart about the future of sports…..and Coach’s Corner, given these cuts. Here’s Stewart’s answer.
“Well we have no specifics around Coach’s Corner, I can tell you today,” said Stewart.
But isn’t that one of the priciest parts of the CBC sports empire, I asked.
“When you look at the NHL rights that we’ve acquired, it is a business proposition for us,” said Stewart. “It is a business relationship that gives us a margin of profitability that we then in turn invest in other programming. So we’re very committed to our relationship with the NHL”
Translation – Cherry can publicly insult retired hockey enforcers, openly mock the Montreal Canadiens and play up his love for an American hockey team on Coach’s Corner because it makes a lot of dough for CBC.
In his conversation with Finnerty, Lacroix also made it clear renewing that NHL deal was key for the broadcaster.
“Kirstine and I have been making sure we can have a conversation with the NHL about the extension of that contract,” said Lacroix.
The CBC needs that NHL deal more than ever. So why do they keep deliberately alienating a large swath of the Canadian public by airing a show anchored by folks like Cherry and Cherry-lite Mad Mike Milbury who make no secret of their distaste for the Habs and most any team that’s not either the Leafs or the Bruins?
You think I’m exaggerating? During a Montreal-Boston playoff series a couple of years back, sidekick Ron MacLean asked Cherry about the game and he point-blank refused to answer, saying to MacLean – ‘You’re trying to get me in trouble.’ Translation – Cherry can’t even weigh in on a Habs-Bruins match because his default position is anti-Habs.
That’s just sick. And the sickest part is that this bizarre Maple Leafs/Bruins bias might just cost CBC its most profitable property. I can’t imagine Lacroix or Stewart can be liking this situation at all.