TORONTO (Aug. 3) — It’s been hypothesized that Rogers Communications is deliberately maintaining the vanilla decorum of Hockey Night In Canada to preserve a sound coalition with the National Hockey League. Since the departures of Don Cherry (fired in November 2019) and Brian Burke (left, last Feb. 9, to become Director of Hockey Operations with the Pittsburgh Penguins), the intermission segments of Hockey Night — though credible and informative — have lacked bite and entertainment. But, when ESPN, the American partner of the NHL starting next season, hired the cantankerous John Tortorella as a studio analyst, the Rogers theory went out the window.
Clearly, the NHL is not overly concerned about a potential train wreck starring on one of its sanctioned telecasts.
And, I say that with respect for Tortorella, who has long been one of the game’s most–volatile figures. I remember walking with John in the dressing room corridor of Scotiabank Place in Ottawa while covering the first round of the 2006 playoffs for The FAN–590. He was still coaching Tampa Bay and less than two years removed from guiding the Lightning to their first Stanley Cup title. His reputation and notoriety as a combative presence with reporters had already been established… and I loved it; thought it was terrific. While saddling up beside Tortorella and introducing myself, I urged him to maintain his demeanor and not bow to league or media pressure. He thanked me profusely and clearly never did wither in the spotlight, while working for T–Bay, the New York Rangers, Vancouver or Columbus. Did he get carried away once in awhile? Of course… never more so than during the first intermission of a game between the Canucks and Calgary on Jan. 18, 2014, when he rampaged toward the Flames dressing room to confront his counterpart, Bob Hartley. John had to be physically restrained by players, assistant coaches and arena staff; he was subsequently suspended by the league, without pay, for 15 days. Earlier, in Game 5 of the 2009 playoff series between the Rangers and Capitals, Tortorella heaved a water bottle at a heckling fan before grabbing the stick of Aaron Voros and attempting to spear the man between two panes of glass.
Tortorella’s verbal scuffles and acute lack of patience with reporters became legendary through the years. He and veteran columnist Larry Brooks of the New York Post waged endless conflict; Tortorella inevitably grumbling over a question from Brooks in a media scrum; the two men lapsing into a sequence of “F–you’s!” before rolling video cameras. During his time with Columbus, it wasn’t rare for Tortorella to either storm out of a podium session with the media… or threaten to. The point I’m making here is the NHL — had it so desired — could have easily silenced Tortorella once the coach split company with the Blue Jackets after last season. Were Gary Bettman and the league governors poignantly opposed to Tortorella joining ESPN, it wouldn’t have happened. Why, then, does Rogers come across, comparatively, as a frightened rabbit? The Hockey Night production is way too “nice,” for lack of a better term. No longer is there a morsel of contention or controversy as part of a program that once employed Cherry, Burke, Al Strachan, Nick Kypreos, Howie Meeker and other such–outspoken pundits and analysts.
Perhaps it’s a money issue. High–profile intermission figures (Cherry, Burke, Jeremy Roenick, Mike Milbury, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Tortorella) do not come cheaply. And, we all know that Rogers has tightened its sports budget considerably since beginning to pay out the $5.2 billion owned to the NHL over 12 seasons for national TV rights in Canada. Think of the six–figure (and larger) salaries that have been expunged from the company since 2016: Glenn Healy, Bob McCown, Cherry, Kypreos, John Shannon, Doug MacLean, Mike Johnson (a significant blunder), Burke (voluntarily), George Stroumboulopoulos. The common thread amid the aforementioned was venturing outside the lines with unique and/or brusque commentary. It appeared the NHL was moving away from contention in the U.S. after Roenick and Milbury fell on their own swords. Hiring Gretzky and Messier, two of the game’s greatest players, will help with recognition south of the border, but neither are expected to rock the boat. No such anticipation accompanies Tortorella to the ESPN studio. He’s cut from an entirely different cloth.
So, will we get more of the same up here on Saturday nights next winter? Why didn’t Rogers have the foresight to contact Tortorella before ESPN (or would it not pony up for a leading and influential name)? Clearly, Hockey Night would benefit from a strongly opinionated, polarizing figure capable of drawing and maintaining viewership. As did Cherry for the better part of four decades. With Tortorella joining the NHL’s American TV partner, there is no longer any excuse for the Canadian partner to shy away from strife or conflict. Evidently, it’s a choice, not a necessity.
LOST LEAFS TRAVEL PHOTOS — Part 2
These are images I snapped with my NIKON to start this blog while traveling around the National Hockey League in the 2011–12 season, after my radio career at The FAN–590. The photos had been expunged a few years ago by the techno types at Insiteful Solutions while contracting the volume of blogs written since June 2011. They are, as the sub–title indicates, travel photos, rather than images taken during the Leafs games I attended. Enjoy:
WHILE ON APPROACH, IN OCTOBER 2011, TO LaGUARDIA AIRPORT IN NEW YORK ON A FLIGHT FROM TORONTO TO INTERVIEW NHL COMMISSIONER GARY BETTMAN. FLEW PAST THE NEW YANKEE STADIUM (OPENED 2009) IN THE BRONX (TOP–LEFT) THEN HAD MOST OF CENTRAL PARK OUT THE WINDOW OF THE AIR CANADA JET (RIGHT).
NHL SHIELD (TOP–LEFT) IN THE RECEPTION AREA OF THE LEAGUE HEADQUARTERS AT 1185 AVENUE OF THE AMERICAS. THE COMMISH WAS VERY ACCOMMODATING IN HIS LARGE, MIDTOWN OFFICE (ABOVE AND BELOW).
MADISON SQUARE GARDEN (TOP–LEFT), HOME OF THE NEW YORK RANGERS, IS ACTUALLY QUITE ROUND. IT IS LOCATED SEVERAL BLOCKS WEST OF THE ICONIC EMPIRE STATE BUILDING, WHICH RISES 102 STORIES ABOVE W. 34rd ST.
WHEN TAKING OFF SOUTHEAST ON RUNWAY 13 AT LaGUARDIA, JETS PASS OVER FLUGHING, N.Y. IF SEATED AT A RIGHT–SIDE WINDOW, CITI FIELD (TOP–LEFT, HOME OF THE NEW YORK METS) AND THE BILLIE JEAN KING NATIONAL TENNIS CENTER (HOME OF THE U.S. OPEN) QUICKLY COME INTO VIEW. AIRBORN PHOTOGRAPHERS MUST ACT FAST.
THE NEW JERSEY DEVILS MOVED FROM THE MEADOWLANDS TO THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER (TOP–LEFT) IN DOWNTOWN NEWARK FOR THE 2007–08 NHL SEASON. IN “CLUB” SEATING, THE DEVILS LOGO GRACES THE BACK–REST OF LEATHER CHAIRS. MARTIN BRODEUR (BOTTOM–RIGHT) WAS STILL PLAYING GOAL IN 2011–12. IN FACT, HE WOULD BACKSTOP NEW JERSEY TO THE EASTERN CONFERENCE TITLE AND HIS LAST APPEARANCE IN THE STANLEY CUP FINAL, LOSING TO L.A.
LE CENTRE BELL IN MONTREAL IS TEAMING WITH HOCKEY HISTORY (ABOVE), SIMILAR TO THE OLD MONTREAL FORUM. RETIRED CANADIENS’ JERSEYS AND STANLEY CUP BANNERS CROWD THE GIRDERS OF THE ARENA THAT OPENED IN 1996. SEATING (BELOW) IS ARRANGED IN THE FAMOUS BLEU, BLANC ET ROUGE COLOR SCHEME OF THE HABS.
JOFFREY LUPUL (19) AND PHIL KESSEL (81) WERE STILL PLAYING FOR THE LEAFS IN 2011.
LANDING TO THE WEST AT PHILADELPHIA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT OFFERS A VIEW (TOP–LEFT) OF THE SPORTS COMPLEX, INCLUDING THE WELLS FARGO CENTER, HOME OF THE FLYERS (GROUND VIEW, AT DUSK, TOP–RIGHT). MY HOTEL ROOM IN THE COMPLEX OVERLOOKED CITIZENS BANK PARK (BOTTOM–LEFT), HOME OF THE BASEBALL PHILLIES. AND, A WIDE–ANGLE VIEW (BOTTOM–RIGHT) FROM CORNER OF THE PRESS BOX DURING FLYERS–LEAFS GAME.
NATIONWIDE ARENA IN COLUMBUS (ABOVE) OPENED ON SEP. 9, 2000 IN TIME FOR THE EXPANSION BLUE JACKETS TO PLAY THEIR FIRST NHL GAME. IN NOVEMBER 2011, LEAFS FANS FLOCKED TO OHIO AND ENJOYED A 4–1 VICTORY.
AFTER TAKING OFF FOR OTTAWA FROM PEARSON AIRPORT AND TURNING LEFT, I CAUGHT THIS SPLENDID SHOT (ABOVE) OF DOWNTOWN TORONTO (JET–ENGINE AT FAR–LEFT). THE ROGERS CENTRE (HOME OF THE BLUE JAYS) AND C.N. TOWER ARE FOREMOST NEAR THE BOTTOM. SCOTIABANK ARENA, HOME OF THE LEAFS, IS ADJACENT TO THE DOME, AT FAR–RIGHT. THE SEMI–CIRCULAR TOWERS OF TORONTO CITY HALL ARE AT TOP–RIGHT. A PICTURESQUE WATERFALL AT OTTAWA AIRPORT, BELOW, AND AN EARLY EVENING SHOT OF SCOTIABANK PLACE, HOME OF THE SENATORS.
THE 2011–12 SEASON MARKED THE SENATORS’ 20th ANNIVERSARY IN THE NHL.