As every true Canadian knows, neither Toronto nor Montreal made the Stanley Cup playoffs this year. So, faced with a probable 30-per-cent drop in its total playoff hockey audience, CBC had no choice but to take drastic action.
The result is the first ever Rabinovitch Cup playoffs. Named for CBC President Robert Rabinovitch, the newest hockey trophy will be up for grabs by the fourteen NHL teams that failed to make this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
"Let’s face it," said Mr. Rabinovitch. "We had to do something. With advertisers leaving like rats from a sinking ship, our bottom line was lower than Stéphane Dion’s polling numbers."
As matters now stand, the ninth place team in both NHL conferences will get a first round bye while the remaining twelve teams will do battle for the six other quarterfinal spots. Already things are looking up for Toronto fans as the ninth place Maple Leafs get a much needed break before facing the winner of the now soon-to-be much-anticipated Florida-Boston matchup.
"Honestly, I think Canadian hockey fans are going to love this new format," said the CBC boss. "After all, not only have we got Montreal and Toronto, we’re also featuring last year’s Stanley Cup finalists - Edmonton and Carolina."
Initially skeptical about the new playoff structure, fans in Montreal, Toronto and Edmonton are now fully on board. Management in all three cities is also enthusiastic about the new approach.
"Look," said Maple Leafs General Manager John Ferguson, Jr. "I’ve always said it was ridiculous to play an 82-game season to eliminate less than half the teams. As my dad used to say: ‘Let ‘em play.’"
Rabinovitch also touted the benefits to RDS, the French-language sports network. Keeping the Montreal Canadiens on the ice will not only put bums in the seats at the Bell Centre, it will also keep TV hockey viewership numbers up in Québec.
Montreal GM Bob Gainey was in complete agreement. "Our team is playing some of its best hockey right now," said Gainey. "It just makes sense to keep them active and sharp."
Although there was some speculation that the NHL would take legal action to halt the second tier playoffs, league Commissioner Gary Bettman appears to be on board.
"I see it as a win-win situation," said Bettman. "Not only does it keep the other fourteen arenas busy, it also allows us to get even greater exposure in our ever-growing American market."
Fans of second division clubs are looking forward to some great hockey match-ups. With any luck, there’ll even be a Montreal-Toronto semifinal series.
As longtime Leafs fan Don Cherry said: "This is great. I love it. At least my Leafs have a chance to win something fora change. I can’t wait to see my boys drinking from the - what did you call it again? - oh, yeah, the Rabbititch Cup."