To everything, there is a season. And the season has turned for Coach's Corner with Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada.
Coach's Corner has been running for more than 30 years—since the early 80s—and Don Cherry hasn't changed his tune. This is like listening to Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" during the first intermission of every game. It really is 'the same old song.'
There's good reason why Cherry struck a chord in the beginning.
The Canada/Russia series of the 70s sparked a huge sense of nationalism. Canadians were the golden heroes; the Russians were the red enemy. They were skilled and talented, but they were robots, controlled by the Communist state.
These stereotypes bled over to other European countries as their players started to enter the NHL. Because they were different, they were a bit threatening. And, it could be argued, they were taking Canadian jobs—never mind that expansion and the merger with the WHA were creating more teams, and thus more positions, than ever before.
Cherry's early bluster played into these fears, supporting the "good Canadian boys" and finding faults, real or imagined, with the Europeans' character, as well as their style of play. Fans ate it up.
Cherry hit his stride in the early 90s—around the same time that Russian players first joined the NHL. He cut them no slack, and enjoyed massive popularity. He had a syndicated TV interview show called "Don Cherry's Grapevine", opened a chain of restaurants, and launched his successful series of "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Hockey" videos, featuring each year's best hits and fights. His favourite players, like Doug Gilmour and Kirk Muller, were thriving. Cherry had his finger on the pulse of Canada.
In the ensuing twenty years, the message hasn't changed. Cherry still wears his gaudy suits. He still champions the Canadian Forces and regularly features fallen soldiers. He'll still tell you about Bobby Orr, "the greatest of all time." And he'll still rail against the Russians and advocate for outdated notions like removing the instigator rule.
Cherry can still gain attention from being controversial, but there can be such a thing as bad publicity. Cherry landed in a firestorm at the beginning of this season, in the aftermath of the deaths of enforcers Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, and Wade Belak. As former NHL tough-guys spoke out about the challenges they'd faced both during and after their playing days, Cherry turned on his old comrades, calling them "turncoats and hypocrites." After being threatened with legal action by Stu Grimson and Chris Nilan, he was forced to backtrack completely and issue a full apology.
It was a rare example of facts actually playing a part in Cherry's universe. Cherry's rants have taken on such a life of their own that the Vancouver Province's "Legion of Blog" ran a weekly feature last season called "Don Cherry Confused Me," where they broke down his actual statements and tried to apply a dose of reason, with very humorous results.
So, Coach's Corner doesn't actually make sense. The argument has been that it doesn't matter. Cherry is one of the most recognizable Canadians in any field, and is widely beloved. In 2004 he was voted #7 on the CBC series "The Greatest Canadian."
Nevertheless, the time has come for Cherry to hang up his hat. CBC holds the broadcast contract for Hockey Night in Canada until the end of the 2013-14 season and it's estimated that Cherry is paid $800,000 per year. CBC also announced wide cuts in the face of funding cutbacks from the federal government in the most recent budget.
The Corporation insists that the sports side of their business is profitable, and it's widely believed that Cherry is a cash cow for Hockey Night in Canada. But, do the advertisers realize that an average of 800,000 viewers leave their TVs when Coach's Corner begins?
Why not go grab a snack, when Cherry's big rant in the first intermission of Tuesday's Rangers/Capitals playoff game is about raising the glass to try to lessen delay-of-game penalties? Even sidekick Ron McLean seemed exasperated as he tried to explain that the glass can't go higher without impeding the TV camera angles. It's an idea that lacks both firepower and practicality.
Cherry does his best to keep his persona puffed up and stay true to his image. For as long as he's on the air, he'll land in hot water from time to time. But his leash is shorter and his days are running out.
In 2012, he's boring. That's the worst sin of all.