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First round won't be seen in high-def

If a playoff hockey game is available in HDTV and Time Warner doesn't carry it, will anybody at the cable company hear about it?

I suspect so since hockey is supposed to benefit greatly from the clarity offered by those expensive high-definition sets.

Unfortunately, only the NBC games are available on an HD channel here.

Though Time Warner has a national deal with the NHL's cable provider, Versus, to carry it in HD, it isn't carried in HD here and won't be in the playoffs.

MSG, the Sabres rights holder, isn't available in HD here, either. But even if it were, the games wouldn't be in HD because the Sabres don't produce an HD broadcast.

Since the Sabres games are usually the highest-rated programs of the week on cable, you might expect Time Warner and the Sabres to accelerate HD coverage.

Gordon Harp, the top local Time Warner executive, explained this week that the issue with HD is available bandwidth capacity. He added that other than a handful of Sabres games, the programming on Versus isn't appealing enough to devote to HD daily with the current bandwith capacity.

Harp said MSG in HD isn't available off the satellite but T-W has looked at bringing it in through its fiber system.

"We're not at the point of upgrading our system so we're able to pull it off," Harp said. He hopes MSG will be able to be delivered in HD by this summer, which would mean it would be available for the 2007-08 hockey season if the Sabres are ready to produce an HD broadcast.

Harp added that the YES Network is available in HD because the Yanks -- who have more than 100 games on their own channel -- are a big local draw.

It's time to clear up who has the rights to Sabres playoff games if they advance to the second round. MSG could get three games. Versus and NBC have exclusive rights to two games each.

Is America ready for CBC's politically incorrect Don Cherry? NBC thinks so. Cherry will make his debut during NBC's Stanley Cup finals coverage. It is strange timing considering all the mess one of NBC's cable networks dealt with over Don Imus' idiocy.

"A lot of people have written that what I say up here I would never get away with it down in the States," Cherry said during a joint conference call with CBC and NBC. "I'll just go on and do what I have to do."

He said he was on in Pittsburgh once when a long-haired Jaromir Jagr was playing with Mario Lemieux.

"I said, 'There's Mario and his daughter,' " Cherry said. "It didn't go over too good. That was my last time in the States."

Cherry didn't think the Sabres would have too much trouble with the Islanders but he predicted Ottawa would win the East. "They're speedy," Cherry said of the Sabres. "They can be tough. Lindy Ruff, he doesn't fool around if you touch any of his stars. I love the Islanders, the way they battled right into the end. . . . But I think they won their Stanley Cup just getting in the playoffs."

On the same call, NBC announcer Brett Hull, who scored the disputed "No Goal" in the Sabres 1999 Stanley Cup finals loss to Dallas, was asked to imagine a playoff trip to Buffalo as a broadcaster.

"The reception will be horrendous, as you probably can imagine," Hull said. "But I think they're a great team."

He picked the Sabres to play Anaheim in the Cup finals.

"Buffalo's got it all," Hull said. "I think they almost have four lines that can put the puck in the net. They've got solid, mobile [players], good mix on defense of speed and size and strength [on] defense, offense. They've got a great young goalie. I mean, they're a great team. This is a year where if they're going to do it, this is probably the year. You know, good for them if they do."

CBC reportedly isn't too thrilled that NBC has grabbed the Pittsburgh-Ottawa game at 3 p.m. today and took the Sens from "Hockey Night in Canada." NBC also is carrying the Calgary-Detroit game at 1 p.m. Sunday and plans to carry games in both series next weekend if the series are still alive.

Steve Mariucci, the former Detroit and San Francisco coach, has some sympathy for Bills coach Dick Jauron. On Wednesday's NFL schedule show on the NFL Network, Mariucci said: "The Bills' first seven games are brutal."

e-mail: apergament@buffnews.com

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