SL: The whole vibe on the NHL on TSN set — I wouldn’t describe it as goofing off or not taking it seriously — but there’s just kind of an easy vibe on that set whenever I watch it. Who do you think’s responsible for that?

JD: I think it’s a combination. Bob, for a serious insider, has a great sense of humor. I think myself and him are sort of the bookends of the set. Usually, the guys we bring in, we have somewhat of a say in, and they’re personality guys. Wardo (Aaron Ward) is a very lighthearted, funny guy, Marty Biron’s got a good sense of humor, [Mike] Johnson… most of the guys we’ve got in there.

My philosophy has always been you take the job seriously, you never take yourself seriously. It is just sports. I worked in news for five years before I went to sports, and I think that gave me a good perspective on where sports stands in the world. I spent five years covering triple murders and elections and all these things and so, when I got into sports, I always said to myself that it is an escape for people, and I want it to be just that.

I know that hockey fans are extremely passionate, and extremely serious about the game and they’re fans, but it is in the end, entertainment. It’s not the end of the world if you had a three-goal lead and lose a February hockey game. We’ve always tried to strike that balance of, yes, we’re broadcasters and there’s certainly a high dose of journalism in what we do, but you sort of want to constantly remind people that it’s just a game you’re talking about and it’s okay to just have fun. That’s the kind of balance we try to strike and the kind of fine line we have to walk all the time, because you certainly want to be taken seriously and want to be credible when there’s a serious story, but I want people to tune in during the intermission to have a little bit of fun with it.

SL: Do you ever get used to or mentally prepared for the trade deadline or free agent frenzy shows?

JD: No. I hate trade deadline and I’m not afraid to admit. Well, you know what? This year was actually pretty good. This year was one of the best trade deadlines we had, because stuff happened, first of all. We had a good friend of mine, Lester McLean, and he was in doing songs.

The last few years, I came to dread it, because I would always say to my bosses, “It’s the only thing where hype it every year and we deliver less and less.” The GMs have figured out that they don’t want to make deals at the deadline.

I give a lot of credit to the hockey audience, and they know when all this hype stuff is not gonna come through. I actually think that people watch it to see us squirm half the time [laughs]. I keep arguing every year, why don’t we go on at noon? It’s ridiculous to be on at 8 a.m. when no trades ever happen until 11 or 12 or 1 or 2. Then they show me the ratings, and the ratings are great, so my only conclusion from that is people watch us to see us squirm for four hours, the sick bastards out there and I say that lovingly.

SL: It might be a good sign for the future, because it shows people just like hearing you guys talk.

JD: Yeah. TV has so many rules about how you’re supposed to do things, and they all go out the window on trade deadline day. Sometimes I’ll get a call and just put my mic down and let Darren Pang host. When [Pierre] McGuire used to be on, he would always be walking away in the middle of a conversation and took a phone call or go talk to Bob. Sometimes we’re caught eating pizza on the air [laughs].

My greatest fear about trade deadline day is about when I can go to the can, because it’s a two-minute commercial break, so that’s my greatest challenge. It’s fun, it’s just… if they’d all be like this year I would be fine with it, but in a long-winded answer to your question, I haven’t gotten mentally prepared for it, I just go in there and hope for the best. As long as we get a Burkie (Former Canucks, Ducks, Maple Leafs and current Flames executive Brian Burke) interview once in a while we’re usually good.

SL: Has, knowing the fate of next year, the show been a little sillier or more existential, or a little looser, not that it’s senior year or anything…

JD: I would say no, it really hasn’t. The reason for that is that we’re back next year, and that’s the biggest misconception I think for people out there. That The NHL on TSN is dead.

Obviously, it was a blow. We loved doing the national package, every bit of it we loved. It hurt that that was taken away, but hockey broadcasters love to do hockey games. I think we did 160 games this year with The NHL on TSN, between regional and national. This year coming we’re doing 150 games.

People in Ontario, the biggest population base in Canada, I think fans will see us twice as much. I won’t be doing every single one of those, but we still have a lot of hockey. It’s not a goodbye, so it hasn’t felt like a farewell tour, like you say, or a grad year. The panel’s gonna be back next year, that’s what I have to tell people on Twitter when they say “We’re really gonna miss you guys.”

We have all these games next year, we’re gonna do ‘The Quiz’ all the time, ‘The Quiz’ might be turned into a half-hour show. ‘Insider Trading’ with Bob and Dreger and LeBrun will be back, the panel will be back. It’s not going to be the same, but we’re still going to be there. I think that makes it a lot less painful.

SL: Even if it’s not goodbye, do you have a favorite memory through these years with the national package?

JD: I’ll give you a few. It’s hard to pick a panel moment, just because there’s been so many. I think one of the low points for me — I say that lightly — was when we had Maggie the Monkey [laughs] that spun the wheel and predicted playoff series. Then they got creative and brought in a lemur, which is another primate, to be the monkey’s manager. They called it “Jacques Lemur,” that’s the high-brow comedy we have at TSN.

There was one day that I was in there and they had the monkey spinning the wheel, and they had the lemur on my shoulders. The monkey had just peed all over my suit. Lemurs can’t sit, so the lemur was just digging its claws into my head, and I felt this slow trickle of blood down my back while I was trying to host a TV show.

As for highlights, there’s so many. One of the moments I always think about that I was really proud of was when Brendan Burke came out, the first TV interview he did was with us, and we had Brian in the studio.

I was really proud of that, because when you’re doing hockey you don’t often get to do stuff that’s important beyond the bounds of a hockey rink. I felt really proud that he’d come on our show, and for the first guy in hockey to come out he was such a terrific guy, and a terrific spokesman for it. It was only a couple months later when he passed away. It’s weird to call it a highlight, but it was a moment I was really proud of our show for doing.

I don’t know, it’s so tough. 12 years of games, I could go on all day. They all kind of loop into one after a while.

About Steve Lepore

Steve Lepore is a writer for Bloguin and a correspondent for SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

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