Thoughts on Colour and Play-by-Play Coverage in the NHL

It’s virtually impossible to watch or listen to a game of hockey without being affected by the broadcasters.  With so much exposure, fans inevitably have strong opinions about who is or isn’t good at what they do.  It goes without saying that rink side reporters and in-game interviews remain a complete waste of time (I’ve often thought they should pick a random interview, loop it, and in post-production simply replace the jersey and face of the player as needed).  My exposure to local broadcasting has primarily been to the Sens, so my comments on the local side are confined to Ottawa while I’ll also look at the wider coverage provided by the CBC, TSN, Sportsnet, and NBC.

I’m less interested in whether someone likes or dislikes something than in why they have their opinion, so in this exercise the question becomes what service are broadcasters supposed to provide?  My expectation is that the play-by-play does more than just describe the action–it should also heighten the entertainment of my viewing enjoyment.  Colour commentators, on the other hand, should primarily break down plays and provide insights on the players.  They can add some excitement as well, but I find those who focus on cheerleading more annoying than entertaining.

With that preamble here are my thoughts on the broadcasters I’m regularly exposed too (pbp=play-by-play, cc=colour commentator), with a simple Yes or No in terms of whether I enjoy listening to them followed by an explanation:

CBC
Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – I’ve listened to Dean ever since I moved to Ottawa in 1996, and while he’s not the best play-by-play man in the business he knows his stuff and has entertaining goal calls
Jim Hughson (pbp, No) – I’ve been listening to him for a very long time (back to his early days at TSN); he isn’t terrible–he knows the players and disguises his bias–but he may as well be describing paint dry
Bob Cole (pbp, No) - oh baby, oh golly!  I’ve been exposed to Bob for decades and look forward to the day he finally retires; he’s biased, overly fond of particular words (no one has ever said the word “again” more than he has), struggles to identify players, habitually states the time of the game despite it appearing on-screen, and he’s often dismissive of the colour commentators (post Harry Neale); the one thing I think he does well is to create energy with his voice
Garry Galley (cc, Yes) – losing him on The Team 1200 has left a void on that radio station that no one has filled; he offers great insight and is among the best colour guys on TV
Greg Millen (cc, No) – he’s inconsistent and doesn’t cover his biases
Glenn Healy (cc, No) – currently rumoured to be on his way out at the CBC, he’s possibly the most arrogant and combative guy on Hockey Night in Canada; he has strong player biases and provides very little insight
Craig Simpson (cc, No) – he’s essentially Healy but less entertaining; he’s biased and doesn’t offer much insight

TSN
Gord Miller (pbp, Yes) – among the most professional of his colleagues (lack of bias etc) and provides a lot of energy with his calls
Chris Cuthbert (pbp, Yes) – another broadcaster I remember from TSN’s early days; he knows his stuff
Ray Ferraro (cc, Yes) – I wish I was able to watch more of Ray’s broadcasts, because along with Galley he’s my favourite colour man; he provides excellent insight on the game and has no obvious bias
Mike Johnson (cc, No) – while I’ve started to see some improvement in his work, he doesn’t offer enough insight or meaningful chatter

Sportsnet
Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – see above
Denis Potvin (cc, No) - I have mixed feelings on him, but thus far he’s been too much of a homer; he does (occasionally) offer interesting insight

NBC
Mike Emrick (pbp, Yes) – I don’t hear Emrick a lot, but he does a good job at adding energy to the broadcast
Pierre McGuire (cc, No) – formerly on TSN, his hyperbolic commentary mixed with his heavy bias creates a complete mess; he constantly references his dated time in the league and any previous associations he has

The Team 1200 (radio)
Dean Brown (pbp, Yes) – see above
Dave Schreiber (pbp, Yes) – while Dave is a complete homer, he does such a good job of adding energy with his calls I can forgive him
Gord Wilson (cc, No) – a fixture in all respects for Senators coverage, I’ve never been a fan; he’s a selective homer (in terms of players he likes and thus won’t criticise), he doesn’t break down plays and offers virtually no insight

The experience in studio (before games and between periods) is a mixed bag and outside of TSN a complete waste of time.  Mike Milbury, whose opinions aren’t needed anyway, inflicts pain on both NBC and CBC (although the word is he is gone from the CBC).  Sportsnet has a platoon of commentators who offer no meaningful insight (Doug MacLean might be the worst–he seems to think yelling his opinions makes them valid), while on the radio Jason York is clueless (his once frequent soliloquy’s on how great Keith Ballard is come to mind).  I was not a fan of Marc Crawford on TSN, but otherwise they have the best studio group on TV.

To summate, if I could choose my broadcaster it would be the TSN package, particularly with Pierre McGuire and Marc Crawford out of the picture.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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3 Comments

  1. [...] Thoughts on Colour and Play-by-Play Coverage in the NHL [...]

  2. Nice article,
    mostly agree. I kinda like Denis Potvin and his ‘chemistry’ with Dean though. Watching a Sens game last year, I think I like that combo the best. I like Pierre better on the radio, on TV he’s always that over-the-top character who seems to pour random facts and names from European Teams, Players and Places upon us.
    Take my opinion with a grain of salt since I’m not Canadian, not as knowledgeable about Hockey in general and only regularly watching games since 2005. Add to that, that about half of the games I’m able to watch have commentary from the other team’s homers. And believe me there are bad ones out there (NESN comes to mind and I’m not that fond of the Sabres commentary either).

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I agree that Pierre McGuire is better on radio, although even there his talking points regularly crop up. Potvin is just a bit too homerish for me, but professionally that’s a safe way for him to go to appeal to the fanbase.


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