TORONTO – Don Cherry knows as much about his future on “Hockey Night in Canada,” as his fans—nothing.
The high-profile hockey commentator’s employment status is in doubt after Rogers took control of “Hockey Night in Canada” on Tuesday in a new 12-year, $5.2-billion agreement between the telecommunications giant and the NHL.
CBC’s iconic hockey broadcast will remain on TV for at least the next four years, but the public broadcaster will not have editorial control of the show. That raises questions about the future of on-air personalities like Cherry and his Coach’s Corner sidekick Ron MacLean.
“I have no idea what’s going on. I haven’t talked to CBC, I didn’t see the press conference, I was en route somewhere,” Cherry said to reporters on Tuesday night. “So I’m asking you guys—do I have a job?”
Cherry was making a public appearance to autograph copies of his new Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em DVD and addressed the gathered media before greeting fans.
“I can’t make a comment because I don’t know what’s going on,” said Cherry. “Usually I’m the best guy in the world for a comment but I can’t comment on something when I don’t know what’s going on.”
MacLean said Tuesday he wasn’t sure how the agreement may impact him, but he thinks the new agreement is good for hockey.
“I was happy for whoever happens to be working on the show, even if it isn’t me,” he said. “I think that’s great and I think the $5.2-billion deal is tremendous for the league and the players. It just shows, you know, what hockey in Canada has meant. It’s a great day.”
When asked if he thought the deal was good for hockey Cherry replied:
“No, I have no comment. Don’t ask me that question because you guys know more about it—I didn’t see the press conference, I didn’t see anything.”
Rogers president Keith Pelley said it was too early to discuss the future of Cherry and other faces of “Hockey Night in Canada.”
“This is Day 1 of a 12-year partnership, but it is a partnership with the National Hockey League and with CBC,” Pelley said. “Over the next months and years we will evaluate all facets of our production and our programming.”
Pelley said that whoever appears on the flagship Saturday night show will be available to appear on all the channels that are currently part of the new Rogers deal, including any CBC personalities who stay on.
“Don is an iconic Canadian, and the CBC personalities that they have, from Jim Hughson to Bob Cole, are all legends,” Pelley said. “We haven’t even started the discussion regarding editorial with CBC.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman later clarified Pelley’s statement, acknowledging that Cherry is a popular figure in Canadian hockey and that his part in the new landscape of Canadian hockey broadcasting will be considered seriously.
“Don Cherry is a great talent and a good friend, and obviously it’s somebody who we take very seriously as part of the game, and ultimately it’s something we’ll discuss,” he said. “But 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.”
MacLean noted that the show has been produced in the past by a series of outside companies, even though it aired on the CBC.
And while he doesn’t know what role he will have going forward, if any, the arrangement that will see it air on CBC is similar to those that existed previously.
“Really it will be like that, obviously it’s Rogers, they will now take on the role, but it’s sort of back to square one for me from the 1980s when the show was produced by an outside entity and ran on CBC.”
MacLean even joked that he had earlier offered one suggestion to the Rogers executives who will be taking control. He said he told them if they ever had “Hockey Night in Canada” they should insist on sartorial control, not editorial control, referring to Cherry’s colourful wardrobe.
Cherry joined “Hockey Night in Canada” full-time in 1981 and CBC started the “Coach’s Corner” segment shortly after his arrival.
With files from Scott Edmonds in Winnipeg.