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Networks serve up a whole lot of hockeythink

Five weeks into the NHL playoffs and Usual Suspects has endured more panels than Vanna White. The cumulative effect of watching the anvil choruses of TSN, CBC and Rogers Sportsnet since early April is like being force fed a can of hockeythink. And if both these Conference Finals end in short order it'll be an eternity before the Finals start for more discussion of active sticks and backside pressure.

General note: Do these people ever make a cross-cultural reference? An allusion to what's happening in the NFL, NBA or MLB? The economy? A movie or a book as an analogy? Outside the Phoenix legal machinations, these guys think changing the topic means "let's talk junior hockey."

Talk about a monastery. Wait, didn't Jeff Marek once mention Justin Bieber? No?

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Okay, having cleared our throat… here's how we've rated the Canadian network TV raters

After 40 Minutes ( Hockey Night In Canada): They used to say Fred Astaire gave Ginger Rogers class and she gave him sex appeal. Well, Kelly Hrudey has given the frothing Mike Milbury a little class and Milbury has given Hrudey a dash of passion. The combination has spawned the go-to 2010 playoff panel.

Typically, Milbury rants about the enervation of the sport (in one fit of pique, he walked off the set, half in jest, half in earnest). Meanwhile, Hrudey has become the Jackson Pollock of the telestrator, putting computerized squiggles on the strategic bones of the game. It works because Milbury's unpredictability and Hrudey's pointed barbs about the San Jose Sharks or Roberto Luongo carry bite. It also seems to focus host Ron MacLean into his best work. Now if they would stop sapping the energy by going to P.J. Stock in his video prison set. Rating: B+

TSN: Their panels change so rapidly during the playoffs, it's a wonder they don't get a too-many-men-on-the-set penalty. With only host James Duthie and Bob McKenzie as permanent fixtures, the panel generates little ongoing tension coming out of a period or game. One remaining chair is for a morphing cast of free-agent players - retired guys auditioning for TV and management between gigs. The fourth chair is reserved for a TSN voice such as Pierre McGuire, Ray Ferraro (the Rafer Arrow) or Darren Pang.

It's a sum-of-the-parts situation where good elements don't produce the impact they should. McKenzie, in particular, should assert his vast experience more. Choose a consistent cast and stick with it - and spare us Gino Reda. Rating: C+

Sportsnet: A mutating cast of characters dulls its edge, too - although most of them have been aboard the whole 2009-10 season. With no playoff games on the network, they've also lost the quick-response advantage of CBC and TSN. Most often, viewers catch up to Sportsnet later that night or the next day.

With Bill Watters, Doug MacLean and John Shannon, the cantankerous middle-aged-guy quotient is well represented. Nick Kypreos ticks the box titled "about to be cantankerous middle-aged guy" and Mike Brophy ticks the Mike Brophy box. But the whirligig of hosts makes it hard to focus the effort.

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Again, fewer faces, more defined positions. Rating: C

For Cole Times Sake

For all those Bob Cole "fans" wondering how the Hall of Famer earned the Montreal-Philadelphia gig when CBC's top crew of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson doesn't start till Game Four on San Jose-Chicago, this from CBC spokesman Jeff Keay (the HNIC suits are still boycotting Usual Suspects):

"Bob, Glenn [Healy]and Garry [Galley]did two rounds in the East, so it was decided to keep them going with Montreal. Jim and Craig are continuing with West series, as they have been throughout the playoffs."

Out to Lance

Hockey fans in the U.S. often feel like the redheaded stepchild when it comes to TV coverage. Apparently cycling fans feel like a whole lower order on the societal scale. Or Lance Armstrong does.

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While Floyd Landis outs him on performance-enhancing drug use, Armstrong took the time to tweet that Versus cut away from television coverage of the Tour of California for its NHL playoff coverage. "Who's the dumbass @versustv that cut off @AmgenTourofCali coverage w/ a mile to go for pregame hockey?? #pathetic", wrote Armstrong. Probably the same dumb ass who told Lance he could tough out the drug thing.

Still Waiting

Finally, interesting how quickly CFL commissioner Mark Cohon got a press release out to congratulate David Braley - who owns 25 per cent of the league - on being named a senator. Interesting that we have yet to hear from the commissioner about the arrest on Monday of Tony Galea, the former team doctor of Braley's Toronto Argos, on charges he dispensed PEDs to football players.

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