Not having the Leafs in the playoffs for the second consecutive year hurts CBC’s ratings like a Sheldon Souray slapshot off the ankle.
Joel Darling, Hockey Night’s executive producer, thinks having a chance to watch Crosby lead the Pittsburgh Penguins against the Ottawa Senators in the opening round of the playoffs will ease the pain of Leaf fans across the country.
“We are all aware that ratings for Toronto games, whether it’s regular season or the playoffs, are pretty high,” Darling said in an interview Monday. “Having Crosby involved in any series is great for TV.”
Crosby, the 19-year-old Pittsburgh prodigy who led the league with 120 points, could keep fans glued to the playoffs even if the three Canadian teams – Ottawa, Vancouver and Calgary – are eliminated.
“If Pittsburgh was to go pretty far, obviously Crosby is a huge drawing power,” said Darling. “If they end up in the Stanley Cup final, I certainly think that’s a great story for fans in this country because of his history.”
CBC plans to introduce several new innovations in the playoffs, including improved graphics and allowing fans to text message their choice for the game’s three stars.
The network opens its playoff coverage with a double-header Wednesday. First Pittsburgh will play in Ottawa (7 p.m. ET), followed by goaltender Roberto Luongo making his first playoff start as the Vancouver Canucks host the Dallas Stars (10 p.m. ET).
On Thursday night, the Calgary Flames will be in Detroit to battle the Red Wings (7 p.m. ET).
CBC will also show the New Jersey Devils-Tampa Bay Lightning series, beginning Saturday.
TSN will drop the puck on the playoffs with two games Wednesday. First, Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks will travel to Nashville to face Peter Forsberg and the Predators (8 p.m. ET), then the Minnesota Wild will battle the Anaheim Ducks (10:30 p.m. ET).
Phil King, TSN’s president, is happy with the games his network will show.
“This is among our best playoff coverage we are ever going to have,” said King. “It looks like the teams the vast majority of people think will contend for the Cup will be on TSN at some point.”
TSN will unveil a new wrinkle this year by giving viewers the chance to decide which game they want to watch.
An example is Thursday. The first game of the New York Islanders-Buffalo Sabres series will be shown on the main network (8 p.m. ET). The New York Rangers-Atlanta Thrashers game will appear on the TSN alternative digital feed (7 p.m. ET)
To watch the alternative feed, a viewer must have a digital cable box and be served by a carrier that has agreed to show the game.
Darling said CBC plans to show between 16 and 20 of the first-round games in high definition.
The entire Ottawa-Pittsburgh series will appear in HD, as will Calgary and Vancouver home games.
For the first time, cbcsports.ca will offer live streaming of the pre-game warmups and post-game coverage. There’s even a chance some games may be shown on the internet.
CBC will also have new graphics which will show scores across the top of the screen instead of a box in the upper left-hand corner.
In Toronto, regulars Ron MacLean, Don Cherry and Kelly Hrudey will set the stage for each game. Craig Simpson, the Edmonton Oilers assistant coach, will join MacLean in-studio throughout the first round to offer insights and analysis.
TSN has added Philadelphia goaltender Martin Biron and Jeremy Roenick, the Phoenix Coyotes outspoken forward, to its studio crew of James Duthie, Bob McKenzie, Darren Dreger, Dave Hodge, Darren Pang and Tie Domi.
The unpredictable Roenick never hesitates to speak his mind.
“He’s definitely one of the most entertaining players in the league the last decade,” said King. “He has lots of opinions and isn’t afraid to say them.”
Also returning is Maggie the Monkey, who will make playoff predictions.
“She’s starting to know James Duthie,” said King. “She ran to him and jumped on his lap. She probably thinks he’s a distant relative or something.”
TSN plans to show 18 of its 28 scheduled games in high definition. All the games will be shown in wide screen.
On CBC, Bob Cole will call the Ottawa-Pittsburgh series alongside analyst Greg Millen and host Elliotte Friedman.
Out West, Jim Hughson will be the voice of the Vancouver-Dallas matchup with Harry Neale the analyst and Scott Oake host.
Don Wittman will do play-by-play for the Calgary-Detroit series with Drew Remenda the analyst and Steve Armitage host.
Mark Lee will call the New Jersey-Tampa Bay series and will be joined by analyst John Garrett and host Bruce Rainnie.
TSN’s broadcast teams will consist of Gord Miller with Pierre McGuire and Chris Cuthbert teamed with Glenn Healy.
TSN will use the one-up, one-down method at every available opportunity, with the play-by-play announcer in the broadcast booth and the game analyst at ice level.
“We like it and fans like it,” said King. “It gives a different perspective. The feed back has been all positive so far.”