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The practical realities of this arrangement, though, are already settling in. A tiny league is, in fact, tiny. The nightly matchups include repeats of the matchups from a night earlier. Next week’s schedule looks a lot like this week’s schedule. And there are another three-plus months of this to go. On Tuesday night, one of the Sportsnet hosts teased the Wednesday Night Hockey game between Ottawa and Vancouver. “This will be fun,” he said, and I thought immediately: Will it? The Canucks had beaten the Senators 7-1 a night earlier. They beat them 5-1 on Wednesday. Viewers could be forgiven for wondering if they had stumbled across a recording instead of a live event.
As the plans for this season began to take shape, it was often said that the North Division would be an absolute boon for Canada’s two sports networks, given that every game between a Canadian team would also involve another Canadian team. But local blackouts are still in effect and meanwhile the national rights holders now have a huge inventory of games that do not involve a Canadian team. On Tuesday night, there were 13 games on a packed NHL schedule. Two of them involved Canadian teams. This effect has been particularly pronounced on Saturdays, where Sportsnet used to be able to spread the Canadian teams playing on Hockey Night in Canada across many Rogers properties, plus the CBC. Last Saturday there was one early and one late all-Canadian matchup, and the rest of the would-be HNIC lineup was bereft of local content. In order to make this work, Winnipeg is sometimes given the late slot, which is weird for a city in the Central time zone. This coming Saturday, Canucks at Jets is the late game, appearing on CBC, all the Sportsnets, SN360, City, Omni, and presumably a couple other Rogers channels that I missed while browsing the guide. This is not what the Rogers honchos had in mind when they talked about leveraging NHL content across their many platforms.
(The lack of variety with small numbers of teams is also true of the other three divisions, but they don’t even get the benefit of the gauzy all-Canada idealism.)
None of this is to say that the NHL erred in designing the schedule the way it did for this season. Given the pandemic, and border issues, it did what it could to craft a season out of a mess that was beyond its control. But this has to be a one-season deal. Please. By the late spring, I’m going to be utterly tired of pizza.