The Hockey Night in Canada personality can’t wait for the shortened season to begin, likely Jan. 19, if the majority of players ratify the tentative deal between the league and NHL Players’ Association on a new collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s going to be terrific [hockey]. They won’t have 82 games, that marathon [of a standard regular season]. They’re going to [play games] in their own conference,” Cherry told CBC News Network on Monday. “It’s going to be dynamite.
“They’ll play three games in four nights. And when you play each other a lot, a lot of animosity builds up as [HNIC host] Ron MacLean would say, and that’s when the games are great.”
So, maybe the Battle of Ontario between the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs will once again be a grind-it-out battle as it was several years ago.
And speaking of the Leafs, Cherry believes they’ll be strong playing a compressed schedule that could lead to them ending their playoff drought. Toronto hasn’t played in the post-season since before the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 campaign.
Last season, the Maple Leafs sat sixth in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 6 but plummeted to 11th place and five points out of both a playoff spot and last-place in the 15-team conference by the end of the month.
Toronto went on to lose a franchise-record 11 straight games on home ice, dropping 12 of 18 starts after head coach Randy Carlyle replaced the fired Ron Wilson on March 3, and finishing a once-promising campaign 26th of 30 teams with a 35-37-10 record.
Cherry said any team can get hot or any top squad could slide in a shortened season.
“It’s really going to be something to watch,” he said. “When New Jersey won [the Stanley Cup as the fifth seed in the East] the last time [with a 48-game schedule in 1995] it was terrific hockey.”
Cherry is confident NHL fans will return this season “in droves” in Canada, but wonders how many people will show up at Florida Panthers games in Sunrise, Fla., or Tampa Bay.
“They [fans] might have other things to do down there. That’s the place [the NHL] should be worried about,” Cherry said.
“But don’t worry about Canada. Everybody knows [Canadian] fans will be back. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
Cherry doesn’t believe the NHL would offer anything to fans to ease the pain of a lockout this time around that lasted until the early hours of Day 113. But he does have one suggestion.
“It would be nice if they lowered [ticket] prices,” he said. “That’s the only thing they can do. What are you going to do, give them [a free] hot dog?
“I should be the one ticked off. I didn’t get paid [during the lockout]. … Hey, that’s the way life is.”
And Cherry led a good life during the work stoppage, often attending minor midget hockey games with his son Tim, who is Greater Toronto Area scout of Ontario Hockey League Central Scouting.
But soon it’ll be back to the airwaves and Coach’s Corner for Grapes.