Ron MacLean is unquestionably one of the more respected men across hockey broadcasting. He fills a role similar to that of Bob Costas in the United States, although he used to be far less polarizing than he seems to have become in recent years. Used to be that most considered MacLean a consummate pro whom hockey fans comiserated with for his constant tolerance of Don Cherry over the years, and as one of the few interviewers across North America to attempt to get Gary Bettman off his talking points and on to something more interesting.
It’s true that MacLean is one of hockey’s most comforting voices. He hosts Hockey Day in Canada, an almost 10-hour broadcast, once a year with remarkable aplomb and affection for the sport. He is one of the most-watched personalities in Canada, based on Hockey Night’s perpetual ratings dominance, and you rarely hear anyone say a negative word about the guy. In the past couple of seasons, however, some things MacLean has said have gotten him in more trouble than the wildly wardrobed geriatric that sits beside him and figures out his puns on a seven second delay.
It started in 2010, when MacLean got flack for insisting that Vancouver Canucks’ star Alex Burrows was at fault, defending NHL official Stephane Auger – whom Burrows claimed to have told him “I’m gonna’ get you” – during an interview with then NHL dean of discipline Colin Campbell, which really felt more like MacLean cross-examining Campbell on the entire reputation of Burrows than anything else. MacLean, a certified referee with the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, clearly took the side of Auger and took repeated shots at Burrows.
Now, that’s in the past, and MacLean has apologized to Canucks fans regarding Burrows (he has claimed that the piece had nothing to do with Burrows, but with officiating in general) on other occasions, but the entire issues seems to be entirely behind everyone, at least until Alex Burrows does something controversial again, which happens to be often.
But something caught my ear on Saturday, during the Satellite Hotstove segment featuring Eric Francis, Elliotte Friedman and Mike Milbury, which you can view here. The panel, which MacLean is supposed to be the moderator of, was discussing Duncan Keith’s five-game suspension for a headshot on Daniel Sedin. It starts out all well and good, but then MacLean spends a minute on his own attempting to prove (and successfully, mind you) that Duncan Keith has a history of retaliatory headshots, before then asking Mike Milbury his question. Later in the segment, he openly states that he felt Keith deserved 15-20 games for the hit.
Now you can agree or disagree with MacLean if you want, I personally don’t. That doesn’t matter. The point I’m making is: should Ron MacLean really be the person to say this when he’s supposed to be facilitating the discussion, rather than just saying something and having the rest of the panel react to it? Is he becoming too much like Don Cherry, who forces MacLean to either set him up or bounce off of him? Is this MacLean’s audition to replace Grapes when he rides off into the sunset?
I can’t speak to any of that, but there is someone whom Ron MacLean is starting to remind me more and more of, the comedian Bill Maher. Maher has hosted a politically centered, liberal-leaning panel show since the mid-90’s in a couple of different forms, most recently on HBO since 2002. However, Maher’s panel is clearly not meant to be one in the traditional sense, as he will butt in to give his opinion whenever he feels needed. This is also the case of many shows masquerading as “News Talk” on both the radio and cable news.
The question is: what should MacLean’s role be? Has he been around long enough to earn his “crotchety old man” stripes? Should he be allowed the leeway to give his opinions freely due to his history as a referee? My thing is this: if Ron MacLean is going to give his opinions, why not give him a dedicated segment? Why not call it “MacLean’s Hotstove”? Give him a person or two to bounce off of (like Elliotte Friedman, perhaps) and let him say whatever he wants to say.
However, MacLean sneaking in his opinions during what is supposed to be a panel discussion seems more like what he was doing with the Burrows situation, pushing his own agenda under the umbrella of Hockey Night in Canada. One has to wonder if perhaps they should reign it in, given the controversy over both Ron and Don recently threatening to get Hockey Night taken away from the CBC. I still admire MacLean quite a bit, but I’d prefer he perhaps stay out of the more controversial subjects and stick to what he does best: asking the tough questions and coming up with terrific puns.