Hockey Night In Canada goes back to the tried and true as Rogers tries to reverse ratings drop

·Chris Zelkovich
With Ron MacLean back in the host's chair, Hockey Night In Canada will have an old-school look.
With Ron MacLean back in the host's chair, Hockey Night In Canada will have an old-school look.

When those legions of Canadian hockey fanatics sit down in front of their flat-screen TV sets to watch the NHL starting next week, many will be checking their calendars to make sure they haven't been transported back to 2014.

After two frustrating years of trying to update the way the game is broadcast, Rogers is basically going back to the tried and true -- or at least the way it was before they took over.

Gone is big-city-hip-earring-sporting-skinny-pants-wearing George Stroumboulopoulos, replaced by small-town-homey-pun-spouting Ron MacLean, back in the Hockey Night In Canada host's chair after being shuffled aside two years ago.

But while that will be the most obvious change to the way Rogers presents hockey this season -- not coincidentally after a disastrous drop in ratings -- there will be plenty more.

Also not coincidentally, many of them go against the plans Rogers proudly announced after it signed a record 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with the NHL in 2013.

When it comes to hockey in Canada, change isn't always welcome.

``There's going to be a greater emphasis on Saturday nights," says Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL for Rogers.

``The first two years of the deal we were doing 500 productions a season, producing games every night of the week. When you're doing that much it's easy to think that Saturday's just another night and it's not.

``We want to make it special again."

To that end, the rotating roster of panelists has been ended. Instead, there will be three mainstays joining MacLean at the round table: Nick Kypreos, Kelly Hrudey and Elliotte Friedman. Kypreos and Hrudey, for the most part, won't be seen nationally anywhere else. (Kypreos will appear on Toronto Maple Leafs regional broadcasts and Friedman will also be seen on Wednesday games along with Doug MacLean and Daren Millard.)

``There was a lack of consistency in the past," Moore said.

Rogers plans to stay the course on its plans to promote the game's stars, but does intend to show more features in the pre-game show and during the game when possible.

It has also resurrected After Hours, the show that followed the Saturday late game until Rogers axed it two seasons ago. That means a larger role for veteran reporter Scott Oake.

``There are a lot of great stories around the western teams and we need to tell them," Moore said. The fact that ratings for the late games tanked last season may also have played a part in that change.

There will be notable absences. Those shown the Hockey Night In Canada door along with Stroumboulopoulos were Glenn Healy, P.J. Stock and Damien Cox.

There will be a notable addition, sort of. David Amber will host the Saturday night late game as MacLean heads off to one of the small towns featured on the Sunday night game, no doubt setting records for airline points.

On the ice, there will be one notable change. Expect to see more of the referee cam that was used effectively during the World Cup of Hockey.

A new supplier has improved the quality of the camera, providing some of the great video viewers saw during the tournament. More of that will be seen during the NHL season.

Moore says that in addition to personnel matters, viewers should note a change in tone.

``You'll see a different pace," he says. ``We'll be more relaxed in the studio, but we'll be getting to the arena quicker. The story is in the arena, not in the studio.

It will feel more comfortable."

Like an old pair of slippers, perhaps?

While the performance of the seven Canadian NHL teams will be the biggest factor in boosting ratings, Moore believes the World Cup has already set the stage for a rebound.

``One of the great things about the World Cup of Hockey was that it was the perfect pulpit for young stars with Team North America," Moore says. ``Fans woke up and realized they're in for a lot of exciting hockey from these guys."

The fact many are on Canadian-based teams -- there are benefits to being bad -- will help.

While many point to the return of MacLean as a possible ratings boost, the fact is that impact will be minimal.

``Personalities make a difference, but the biggest personalities and the reason people tune in is the stars on the ice," Moore says, adding that he expects to see ratings rise this season because he's almost certain that at least one Canadian team will make the playoffs.

``The odds of this happening again are so remote, I can all but personally guarantee it won't," he says. 

If it does, no amount of deck-chair-shuffling or returns to happier times will make a difference.









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