Yesterday was exhausting. I mean, I’m writing this at the end of what is now yesterday, and you are seeing it today, but just trust me, I will still think that yesterday was exhausting when you’re reading this. I didn’t even do anything. I’m not really a general hockey writer, I wasn’t covering a team, and the team I root for was unlikely to make a deal. It’s just… guys, we gotta’ cut an hour or two from these trade deadline shows. Go on the air at 10 a.m. ET, or 9 a.m. ET. Just… NEVER AGAIN at eight in the morning. I’m begging you, don’t you dare do this for the free agent frenzy. How do actual broadcasters and crew members who are working get through this?
Anyway, enough about my complaints in terms of the length of the actual day. Let’s talk about the two networks of record covering trade deadline day, TSN and Sportsnet. I was able to flip between both for a good chunk of the day, thanks to Sportsnet streaming online and TSN airing on the NHL Network (except for when NHL Net decided to foolishly cut in and talk about trades that had happened hours ago) I was all set. Overall, everyone on these two sets are the best at what they do. They’re on top of trade and player signing news as well as anybody. There’s really no complaining to be done in terms of actual reporting, everyone got the news to you in a relevant amount of time when something had come up. There wasn’t something being reported on Twitter and not being announced until 10-15 minutes later.
All the personalities on both shows are great too. James Duthie is the best studio host in the business, and Darren Millard is not far behind. I had people that I’m friendly with at both networks, and there wasn’t anyone that really got on my nerves all day. Especially terrific? Billy Jaffe at Sportsnet and Ray Ferraro on TSN. Both are often brutally honest, whether on the positive or negative side of a move or a player, and both always come with their facts straight, and without any nonsense.
The graphics on both shows are largely the same, as well. Both had a countodwn clock, a Twitter tracker showing off tweets with the two network hashtags (#SNTrade and #Tradecentre). Both had a sidebar showing off players who could be dealt and their various statistics. Really, when it came to presentation, there wasn’t too much different between TSN and Sportsnet. A desk with a host and analysts? Check. A desk with a host and insiders breaking treads? Check. A desk with a bunch of reporters sounding off? Check. Reporters set up in the important (read: Canadian and Columbus) cities? Got it.
When it comes to declaring a winner, you have to look at the one category where the two networks really hit a fork in the road and took two different directions: filler material. Boy, was there ever a lot of this needed on a day when there were only a half-dozen or so trades by 2 p.m. ET. This is where TSN chose to be intentionally silly, in my opinion, and Sportsnet chose to do things that were… actually fun to watch.
Where Sportsnet probably wins the day overall was with one feature… the GM room. The premise, if you didn’t see it, is host/Canada’s Most Famous Vegan Jeff Marek and four former NHL general managers (Pat Quinn, Brian Lawton, Neil Smith and Doug MacLean) essentially sitting in a room and talking shop. There were intense debates about various potential trades, including what each would hypothetically offer for various players, there were many cracks at each GM’s past in the league. It was exciting, compelling television for a bunch of guys sitting around an awesome, hockey rink-shaped table that I want in my house now. It was all the fun of speculation, but backed up by the substance of a bunch of people knowing the inner workings of, and taking us into this weird little world that most hockey fans only inhabit a few days a year, and only from the outside at best. I would watch a weekly television show of these guys doing this, even if there aren’t any trades to talk about. It was downright exciting.
TSN, on the other hand, gave James Duthie a soundboard to play with. While undeniably, this produced some funny moments, it was more groan-worthy than anything else. Worse still was Jay Onrait, who’s “blogger” schtick stopped being funny in around 2007. I can’t believe they haven’t built him a “Mother’s Basement” set for one day only. Also, Alyonka Larionov continues to be misused, as reading tweets on television will never, ever be interesting. Sportsnet also dabbled a bit in this with my pal Greg Wyshynski, but it was never as obvious as “LET ME READ THIS BORING THOUGHT THAT A PLAYER TWEETED IN A VERY STILTED FASHION.”
This is not to be too harsh on TSN. They will still likely have the higher rated and more popular deadline show, and rightly so. They have McKenzie and Dreger and Duthie and Miller and Aaron Ward, five of the better people on Canadian television and hockey television at the moment. They deserve to be #1. But what Sportsnet did was make itself some noise on Monday. They made it clear they want the crown, and if they keep stuff like the GM room around, who’s to say in the coming years they won’t claim it for themselves?