Canada's Top TV Hockey Pundit Tells New NHL Broadcaster: 'Just Leave Us Alone'
TORONTO – Time for revolutionary change in the way Canadians watch TV hockey, right?
No, thanks. I'm happy the way things are, Don Cherry, Canada's top NHL pundit, told Rogers Communications on Saturday night after the media giant earlier this week paid $4.9 billion for the national broadcast and multimedia rights to NHL hockey over 12 years starting from the 2014-15 season.
"I know I'm good. I didn’t fall off the turnip truck. I know everybody watches," Cherry said during his popular Coach's Corner segment on the CBC's Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.
"So all I'm saying, take it easy, don't try to ruin a good thing. Just leave us alone, and we'll be just as good next year," he added of Canada's new TV deal with the NHL and what it means to his future.
Cherry, who turns 80 in February, does have impressive credentials as a Canadian sportscaster. His Coach's Corner segment on the CBC's Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada telecasts are a draw with Canadian primetime audiences and advertisers.
But Cherry also makes a reported $800,000 a year for seven minutes of commentary on Saturday nights and has been as much of an asset as a liability for the CBC, given his rants against "left-wing kooks," European hockey players and unabashed support for on-ice fighting.
Cherry in recent years has also increasingly forgone commentary on hockey strategy for tearful tributes to Canadian soldiers, especially when they were tragically killed in Afghanistan.
The sudden question mark over Cherry and Coach's Corner comes as Rogers, starting next season, gets complete editorial and personnel control over Hockey Night in Canada, which will expand beyond the CBC to its City conventional network and its Sportsnet-branded cable channels.
The CBC will supply technical crews and expertise to the Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts, but Rogers will get all the advertising revenue.
Rogers Media president Keith Pelley was ominously vague about Cherry's future during a press conference in Toronto last Tuesday unveiling his $4.9 billion TV deal.
"Over the next months and years we will evaluate all facets of our production and our programming," he insisted.
That had NHL commissioner Gary Bettman clarifying Pelley's comments on Cherry by insisting the press conference was no pity party.
"I didn’t want anybody to take Keith’s very well-said comment to somehow represent the sword of Damocles, because I don’t think it was that," Bettman said.
Rogers Media president of broadcasting Scott Moore told CBC radio that he looked forward to "sitting down with him [Cherry] to discuss if he wants to be part of this," without saying more directly that Rogers wanted him on Hockey Night in Canada from next season.
Already there are calls in the media for Cherry to take Rogers' lukewarm endorsements as a gracious signal to retire.
"If Grapes is halfway as smart as he would have us believe -- and he can’t be a dummy to have forged a remarkably resilient talking-head career from the ashes of a minor league player resume and dumped NHL coach status -- then he’ll pick this moment to sign off graciously," Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno said of Cherry's future.
"If it's truly serious about making hockey its brand and creating something new, exciting and relevant, it (Rogers) would do well to have the good sense and courage to tell Don Cherry it's time to retire and not renew his contract when it expires after this season," The Hockey News' Ken Campbell wrote in a column this week.