The Case For and Against Bob Cole Calling Montreal-Philly

There’s a strange reaction you get whenever Bob Cole’s name is brought up these.  A large portion of Canadian hockey fans, who’ve heard call hockey’s biggest moments for decades, have long grown tired of the man.  There are many fans of teams who aren’t Toronto who feel that Cole is biased against, say, the Canadiens.  There are Leafs fans who just plain don’t like the guy.  The reaction across the border is a little lighter, as Cole’s voice is often heard as a promise of how great hockey broadcasting could be if it weren’t produced by damned yankees.

Regardless, he may be the most controversial voice in the sport, even more than Don Cherry, just based on his mere presence.  Especially now that he’s calling CBC’s most prominent series since the Senators were in the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, with the Canadiens fighting for the Eastern Conference championship.  Cole called last night’s Game #1.  I didn’t here it.  I’m sure his voice sounded well, I’m sure he was able to play up the surprise of just how badly the Flyers jumped on Jaroslav Halak and Les Habitantes, and I’m sure he made a ton of mistakes and had trouble following the play.

See, these are things that one takes when listening to a Cole broadcast.  You have to wonder, if Montreal makes it to the Stanley Cup Final, if Cole would be awarded that series as one last hurrah.  He’s continually, beyond my surprise, been given the chance to call Hockey Night’s best chance at a Canadian Cup Winner for the first time since 1993 each round.  I would’ve thought that now-main play-by-player Jim Hughson would be in Wachovia Center for this series, but he and Craig Simpson have been shunted off to clean-up Games 4-7 of the Chicago-San Jose series.  This must be extremely frustrating for those two, as often times they are the games best announcing duo.

So here.  Let’s lay out a few reasons Cole deserves to be here, and a few why he should probably be taking a breather and head out to Chicago for Game 4 of the Hawks series.

For:

  1. Dude is a Legend, Let Him Finish When He’s Ready. It’s long been rumored by those who claim to be in the know that Cole was none too thrilled when CBC started transitioning him towards putting the Hockey Hall of Famer out to pasture starting last season.  Though I can’t imagine being able to avoid most of the last two seasons of Leaf games can be considered much of a punishment.  That said, maybe there’s something to be said for letting the old dog decide when he hasn’t any fight left.  I can’t imagine VERSUS/NBC doing the same to Mike Emrick, same as I can’t imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers ever doing it to Vin Scully.  In some cases in the business of broadcasting, there’s something to be said for respect.
  2. He’s Gotten A Lot Better Since He’s Stopped Working Every Week. It’s absolutely true.  The calls have seemed to mean a lot more, especially this season.  It’s as if he’s saying “I’ll show them!” to anyone who doubts he still has his mojo.  His call of Game #7 of the Montreal-Pittsburgh series was next-to-immaculate, with the stunned tones of a man who’d seen everything over decades in the game, yet couldn’t quite wrap his brain around a team that barely made the post-season ousting the defending champs.
  3. That Voice Is Playoff Hockey. Whether you like the calls or not, whether you think he’s a homer or not, you have to admit: the man has the voice for hockey the way the aforementioned Scully and Ernie Harwell had the voice for baseball, the way Pat Summerall had the voice for football, and the way Joe Buck has the voice for being a self-satisfied dick in a box.  Much like Summerall’s baritone, but tuned just fast enough that it can pace itself for hockey.  Not to say that Cole overcalls it.  His voice just fits the pace of the game.  It’s very difficult to explain, but it almost at times – during his best moments – feels like the game is following him rather than him following the game.

Against:

  1. Improvement is One Thing, But He’s Still Lost a Step. More like a pronounced jog than a step.  A step would be saying it nicely.  The sad fact is that Cole sounds like a confused spectator many times.  He’s missed game winning goals (as was pointed out in Round 1) and many other calls.  Summerall didn’t know when to call it quits after his “transition” into retirement either, and his work is nowhere near as good as it was, even at the end of his Super Bowl era.  Cole has become similar.  Sometimes, you wonder why he just can’t accept this and fade away, staying around for maybe a few special games a year, a la Dick Irvin.
  2. Jim Hughson Really Should Be Calling These Games. Hughson is the best play-by-play man in the sport, currently.  He is hockey’s version of Jon Miller, without the smugness or the idiotic, arcane partner.  Hughson’s voice is golden, and could become the new sound of Stanley Cup Spring… if only CBC weren’t burying him on the later games of what is clearly the secondary series in Canada.  If anything, Hughson/Simpson should’ve been scheduled to work Games 1-3 of Montreal-Philadelphia, and then shipped west, allowing them to see all four potential finalists, and allowing Cole to get a couple more games in, especially in Montreal.
  3. Hockey Night Really Does Need to Decide Whether or Not It’s Moving On From Him. In a way, they are sort of doing to Hughson/Simpson what NBC did to Conan O’Brien (and I promise this will be the last time you ever hear this analogy on Puck the Media, I swear).  They’re desperately trying to have their cake and eat it too, giving Hughson some of the most desired Hockey Night broadcasts, but apparently, not quite all the ones that count.  Yes, the Hawks-Canucks series was great, but the fact is, when you’ve got hockey’s most storied franchise facing the game’s biggest superstar, your network’s #1 voice needs to be there.  VERSUS/NBC made certain of it in the states, and the fact is that CBC didn’t do the same.

In the end, its probably best put to the fans who should be calling the series.  Cole creates wild amounts of controversy, while Hughson is generally accepted as a silky smooth, great announcer.  CBC likely decided they wanted the legend who creates buzz rather than the still-in-his-prime veteran who does it better than anyone.  It’s a sad choice, but can you blame CBC for making it?

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About stevelepore
Steve Lepore is the Managing Editor of Puck the Media. His work has been featured in The Hockey News. Feel free to contact him at stevemlepore@gmail.com

30 Responses to The Case For and Against Bob Cole Calling Montreal-Philly

  1. Sean Thompson says:

    Might Bob Cole’s assignment have something to do with travel? I know Cole’s still based in Newfoundland and he might not feel up to the coast-to-coast flights he’d probably have to take for the Chicago-San Jose series.

  2. Jeremy says:

    CBC can’t reduce Cole from the equation any further because the network doesn’t have anyone else polished enough (apart from Hughson, of course) to call the big games. Neither Mark Lee nor Dean Brown have what it takes and CBC needs at least two top-tier broadcasting teams throughout the regular season and playoffs.

    If the Canadiens make it to the Finals this year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hughson cover their road games and Cole do the games in Montreal.

  3. mark says:

    jim hughson’s a west coast guy so he would call vancouver’s games he used to be their local broadcaster as well as that was the cbc primary series going back to round one because cbc is afraid people wont watch montreal because they lose people to rds

  4. kevin says:

    Your telling me that Canada doesn’t have more than two decent play by play hockey announcers? This isn’t rocket science. I can name 20 guys in the US that could handle the job. Call Al Michaels if you have to…………….

    • Josh says:

      Kevin, those are the two top guys under contract at the CBC. It’s not like with Versus where they can just choose who they want to pick from the available local guys – it’s about *who is under contract at the network*.

      Why are you always looking for an angle to rip on Canada, Kevin? What is it?

    • canadiansportsfan says:

      That’s like saying Britain doesn’t have more than two good football, er I mean soccer, commentators or the US doesn’t have more than 2 good baseball commentators. Of course we do, but Cuthbert will always work for TSN because of what happened with him at CBC, and its unlikely that Gord Miller will ever leave TSN either. Those are two of the top 5 hockey play by play men in Canada. One of the others (Pierre Houde) is French, so he won’t be working for CBC either. The other two are Colo and Hughson.

      And I really doubt there are 20 Americans who could be a #1/#2 for CBC. My list has Ken Daniels and John Kelly. Sure Kenny Albert and all of the Versus guys would be qualified, but I don’t feel that many of them are as good as any of the top 4 (which excluded Miller) in Canada. Emrick, Peckham and Strader are, but the rest aren’t IMO.

      So now on to what I think CBC should do once Cole leaves. Hughson/Simpson should continue to be the #1 crew. Mark Lee should move over to do Habs games along with someone from Quebec, I’m not sure who. Peter Loubardias (yes I hate him too, but he is qualified) should take over Western games along with Kevin Weekes and the Ottawa crew should stay the same.

      • Josh says:

        Oh, for the love of everything holy, please not Loubardias! I recognize what you’re saying about how he’s qualified, but I will not have the sound up if he’s the guy – I just won’t.

        I’d rather listen to Kevin Quinn. He’s nothing special, but he seemed adequate (and not grating) calling women’s games during the Olympics.

  5. leafsfan1967 says:

    Steve,

    Thanks for an excellent post on Mr. Cole. I watched the CBC broadcast last night on the internet [because Joe Benihaha was ruining the game on Versus] and I thought Mr. Cole was in good voice.

    I can remember when the legendary Foster Hewitt was still going in his 70′s. He was well past his peak and yet was still THE voice of the Leafs on CKFH his own radio station. And he got to call the iconic Canada Russia series in 1972 on TV while Bob Cole did the radio broadcasts. Foster Hewitt finally was forced to retire when Harold Ballard sold Leafs radio rights to another station.

    His son Bill Hewitt took over TV from his father round about 1960. The CBC began using Bob Cole in the 1970′s on the radio and a bit on TV sometimes replacing Bill Hewitt which was very hard for me to take. When Bill Hewitt gave up the play by play role because of ill health in 1981 Bob Cole took over his job. Growing up on the Hewitts and Danny Gallivan, it took me a very long time to get used to Bob Cole but eventually I did and he is still a wonderful play by play man.

    As Jeremy notes, looking to the future the CBC does have a problem. Mark Lee is growing into a decent play by play guy but is a little ordinary. Dean Brown’s problem is that since he is the primary Ottawa play by play guy he is too identified with them. In retrospect the CBC made a big mistake when they let Cris Cuthbert go to TSN/CTV. CBC needs new blood on their broadcasts but good play by play guys don’t grow on trees.

    Bottom line for me on Bob Cole is I hope he knows when he needs to go himself and is allowed to bow out gracefully.

    • Josh says:

      So what do you think they should do, leafsfan? Hire someone else away from another network, or start grooming someone else?

      Maybe they could take someone from within the network, like Steve Armitage to use as a temporary solution. I know he’s not a hockey guy, but he has plenty of Olympic play-by-play experience and, like Cole has *such* a great voice. (Rod Smith did well for CTV/TSN doing speed skating in Vancouver, but nobody calls a race like Armitage.)

  6. leafsfan1967 says:

    kevin :Your telling me that Canada doesn’t have more than two decent play by play hockey announcers? This isn’t rocket science. I can name 20 guys in the US that could handle the job. Call Al Michaels if you have to…………….

    I agree there very good Canadian play by play guys… Joe Bowan in Toronto, John Shorthouse [I think that's his name] in Vancouver, Ken Daniels in Detroit [who did work on HNIC before moving to the States] but there isn’t a nationally recognized guy who isn’t linked to a specific team which is what the CBC needs.

  7. kevin says:

    This is my problem…IT’S HOCKEY FOR GODSAKES!!! And any decent announcer is going to be linked to some team. Honestly, with only six teams in Canada you would think there would be hundreds of good hockey announcers looking for work in Canada. Many of them came to the US to work. Why not hire them back….maybe Canadians have forgotten about them by now

  8. leafsfan1967 says:

    kevin :This is my problem…IT’S HOCKEY FOR GODSAKES!!! And any decent announcer is going to be linked to some team. Honestly, with only six teams in Canada you would think there would be hundreds of good hockey announcers looking for work in Canada. Many of them came to the US to work. Why not hire them back….maybe Canadians have forgotten about them by now

    Kevin what you are missing is that Hockey Night in Canada is still the gold standard in hockey broadcasting and it takes a certain kind of guy to handle these games well. It’s not JUST hockey it’s Hockey Night in Canada and not everyone is fitted for the big stage.

  9. leafsfan1967 says:

    Josh :So what do you think they should do, leafsfan? Hire someone else away from another network, or start grooming someone else?
    Maybe they could take someone from within the network, like Steve Armitage to use as a temporary solution. I know he’s not a hockey guy, but he has plenty of Olympic play-by-play experience and, like Cole has *such* a great voice. (Rod Smith did well for CTV/TSN doing speed skating in Vancouver, but nobody calls a race like Armitage.)

    Josh if I were them I’d look to see who are the best Canadian voices and try and go after them and get them signed on to the CBC. That might mean Ken Daniels, or others who are in various places. Grooming from within might work but I’m not sure who they would groom. Bottom line is they are going to need somemone to replace Bob Cole and probably sooner rather than later…

  10. leafsfan1967 says:

    kevin :This is my problem…IT’S HOCKEY FOR GODSAKES!!! And any decent announcer is going to be linked to some team. Honestly, with only six teams in Canada you would think there would be hundreds of good hockey announcers looking for work in Canada. Many of them came to the US to work. Why not hire them back….maybe Canadians have forgotten about them by now

    PS. I don’t think there are “hundreds of good announcers looking for work”. The good ones all have jobs!

  11. Ryan says:

    I like Cole–he makes mistakes, but he still gives a great sense of the flow of a game. My perfect world would have Hughson as the #1a and Cole as #1b of sorts…Hughson as the HNIC guy who gets the All-Star Game, finals, Winter Classic, all the ‘events’, while Cole is the hockey guy who doesn’t have to focus on shilling the importance of trumped-up games. Keep Cole in sort of the role Dick Enberg had on NFL broadcasts, only more important–he’s not the top guy, but he just oozes respectability.

    As for CBC and looking to the future…it’s never something they’ve been good at, because it’s never something they’ve needed to be good at. Foster pretty much hand-picked his son as his successor, Danny Gallivan was around for decades, and even Bob Cole’s been a top national guy for going on 40 years. Whenever they’ve had younger talent waiting in the wings–Dan Kelly, Ken Daniels, Chris Cuthbert–they’ve always ended up going elsewhere before they could move into HNIC’s big chair.

    When Cuthbert was let go, people had much the same debate they’ve been having in the comments here–who else could be number two and eventual number one? Mark Lee wasn’t anywhere near ready, and Don Wittman was too old to have a future ahead of him. So Hughson was brought in, over objections that–like what people are saying above about Dean Brown–he was too identifiable with one team (in his case, the Canucks). Which is odd, as it’s not like either Hewitt or Brian MacFarlane or Dick Irvin or Danny Gallivan or Jim Robson, the legends of HNIC, weren’t completely identified with particular teams.

    I think CBC will need to look outside the network (not a big deal, as for a long time they had a policy of *exclusively* looking outside the network for new talent) for the next top-flight announcer. Jeff Marek’s clearly being groomed for something, and has done a bit of play-by-play, but is much better in studio. Bruce Rainnie and Elliotte Friedman aren’t any better than Lee or Brown, and Steve Armitage, while an interesting choice, is better suited to sports with a slower pace or single story.

    I doubt Cuthbert would jump back just to get the job he had at CBC (especially now that TSN’s given him the Grey Cup carrot), and I don’t see Gord Miller leaving the network he’s been with forever. Joe Bowen certainly has the voice and the cachet, he’s up there in years, but if CBC can scoop him up, might be the best choice for the Leafs/7:00 game until a younger face is ready. I’ll throw in the Blues’ John Kelly as an outside shot because of his connections to HNIC’s past, no idea if he’d want the job though.

    • leafsfan1967 says:

      Ryan you are right that the CBC hasn’t had to think about their future too much but they do now. I really like your suggestions of Joe Bowen, John Kelly and I’d add Ken Daniels to the list. However you would think if they were going to go with Bowen they would have before now and the other two guys would need to be lured back. As for Jeff Marek, my bet would be that one day he will replace Ron McLean but time will tell.

      • Josh says:

        I’d rather see Elliotte Friedman replace MacLean. Hell – I’d rather see Friedman replace MacLean right now. I think he’s a superior broadcaster, and, given the right opportunity, could really shine.

      • Ryan says:

        I disagree on Friedman being a better replacement…he’s very smart, and very good at pre-produced stuff, but his ad-libs are sometimes excruciating. Last night, Marek displayed one of Friedman’s tweets and then threw to him for an interview, and he said something I couldn’t follow about how he’s better on Twitter than that time he filled in on the iDesk.

    • Josh says:

      I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, Ryan, but we part ways on a few points.

      I think it’s unfair to compare Hewitt or Gallivan with today’s broadcasters, because back then, there were only two Canadian teams. So, it didn’t matter if a guy was associated with a team on some level since his assignments every week would be calling that team’s games. Today, with six teams, all of which are on HNIC several times a season, you can’t have that kind of affiliation anymore – especially not when two Canadian teams play one another.

      The other thing is that, while Cuthbert probably isn’t coming back, there are a lot of people at CBC and at the CFL (perhaps including the current commissioner) who feel that going to an all-cable broadcast schedule might not have been their best move. I wouldn’t be surprised if CBC got back in the CFL game on some level when TSN’s contract is up for renewal next.

      Whether that’s a big enough reason for Cuthbert to jump back to CBC I doubt, but it is a possibility.

      • Ryan says:

        That’s a couple of good points…I don’t think that the team affiliation is or every was a good thing, but I do think it can be overcome (How many people still think of Hughson as a Vancouver guy? Millen as an Ottawa or Toronto guy?). And I’m sure CBC will be pushing hard for the CFL package…they have the World Cup this year, but their summer sports offerings the next three years are limited to just MLS at this point, and that’s far from the presence I think they’d like to have.

  12. Jeremy says:

    Keep in mind, a big part of Cuthbert’s motivation for staying with CTV/TSN had to have been the Gold Medal Game at the Vancouver Olympics. Well, that’s done now . . . and he seems to live in the shadow of Gord Miller for some reason when it comes to the NHL on TSN . . . so a potential move to CBC wouldn’t be so shocking.

    I would think getting a chance to cover the Stanley Cup Finals for Hockey Night in Canada would be a bigger carrot than the Grey Cup on cable TV.

  13. Chris S says:

    One guy I’d love to see come to HNIC is Dan Shulman. I know he’s never really called hockey (maybe a couple of games when he was on TSN), but he’s a great announcer and he’s Canadian. I know it would be hard to get him away from ESPN, it will probably never happen, but I’d love to see it.

    • Ryan says:

      Anytime Shulman’s talked about calling hockey, he’s been extremely modest about his abilities-”They had me go to the World Championship one year because they didn’t have anyone else”, that sort of thing. (Actually, Darren Dutchyshen called one WHC, which goes to show just how weak TSN’s announcer pool was in the early 90s.)

      Baseball and basketball are the sports he likes best, and thus the sports he excels at calling. Don’t see there being interest in him on HNIC from either side.

  14. Josh says:

    Ryan :
    That’s a couple of good points…I don’t think that the team affiliation is or every was a good thing, but I do think it can be overcome (How many people still think of Hughson as a Vancouver guy? Millen as an Ottawa or Toronto guy?).

    Personally, I think of anyone who cashes paycheques from Leafs TV (Millen and Bowen, and formerly Marek) as a “Toronto guy”. My feeling is that if you’re getting paid by MLSE (or any other particular team’s ownership) you don’t belong on a national broadcast.

    And on that note – I’m not sure what the arrangements are between Sportsnet and the clubs. I have this sense in the back of my head that I had learned at one point some of the broadcasters were being paid directly by the clubs. Is Kevin Quinn paid by the Oilers? Dean Brown paid by the Sens? I’m not sure. If they are, I don’t think they should be on national broadcasts either.

  15. leafsfan1967 says:

    Josh :

    Ryan :

    I’m not sure what the arrangements are between Sportsnet and the clubs. I have this sense in the back of my head that I had learned at one point some of the broadcasters were being paid directly by the clubs. Is Kevin Quinn paid by the Oilers? Dean Brown paid by the Sens? I’m not sure. If they are, I don’t think they should be on national broadcasts either.

    If you use this rule then there aren’t many neutral guys left!

  16. AC says:

    Bob Cole is a legend and is deserving of one last hurrah. He has called the Habs all year so it makes sense for him to follow that series.

    And last night’s game wasnt a great game to judge him. How exciting can a guy be when it’s 6-0?

    Going with the game 7 in the habs/pens series, he was terrific. 76 and doing that, that would be considered amazing!

    Jim Hughson is going to be calling these games for a long time. Right now, Cole with Heals and Gals are on a roll and probably will give way in the final even if the Habs make it.

  17. Pingback: YOUR TAKE: The Bob Cole Debate « Puck The Media

  18. Mike says:

    A good discussion here. I am a big Bob Cole fan, as I feel he adds great drama and anticpation to his play by play. In this series it’s obvious he is supporting the Canadiens, as are most of CBC’s viewers, and I love how sometimes he shows this partiality – ‘Fortunately, Richards’ shot missed the net’ and so on. And of course I associate him to every playoffs I have seen. I guess I just like Cole’s ‘blow by blow’ commentating style.

    However, am I the only one who finds Jin Hughson’s vocal tendencies annoying? He adds so many affectations (just listen to the way he says the word ‘save’) to his play by play it’s obvious he loves the sound of his voice. I do agree though he makes far fewer mistakes than Cole, who is 76.

    Within one or two years, Cole will no longer be calling games. I think at this point, people will appreciate how good he still ways, even in the twilight of his career.

    Gord Miller does a solid job, and Chirs Cuthbert is consistenly excellent, and if he had Cole’s voice, he would be the best around right now.

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