Has Ron MacLean Become Too Agenda-Driven on Hockey Night?

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.


About Steve Lepore
Contact me at stevemlepore@gmail.com

8 Responses to Has Ron MacLean Become Too Agenda-Driven on Hockey Night?

  1. Jeff Prescott says:

    The 6:30 show used to be the best and most informative half hour of hockey…but now, it’s just a promo for the 7pm games….except for the great weekly segment by Elliotte Friedman…..
    I love Hotstove..and Ron does seem more opinionated over the years……

  2. kevin says:

    What’s the problem? Keith does deserve 20 games…that was a premeditated shot to the head even if he has no history of it. It was still a brutal cheapshot.

  3. Here’s the problem with HNIC, everything they used to do good, TSN has come along and did better. They have James Duthie, who’s Ron MacLean, but a bit funnier. They have Bob McKenzie, who is Don Cherry, but not offensive. They have Insider Trading, which is The Hotstove, except with actual insiders.

    CBC’s in-game coverage is still the best. Hughson/Simpson are right there with Cuthbert/Ferraro as the best broadcast team in Canada. Cole/Galley aren’t far behind. Elliotte Friedman and Scott Oake are the best reporters in North American sports. Nobody has sideline/rinkside reporters that are as good as them, not ESPN, Fox etc.

    The problem is that MacLean is a bit too comfortable. He thinks he can say anything on-air and get away with it. And he’s right. And the other problem is he has abysmal analysts. Stock is terrible. He flat out says stupid things every week, only to have MacLean and Hrudey disagree with him. Eric Francis and Glenn Healy aren’t insiders. Neither is Mike Milbury. CBC should change the Hotstove. Have Friedman, a Montreal-based reporter and a western-based reporter (someone other than Francis). Or use Tim Wharnsby.

    As far as the puns, just watch the spoof This Hour Has 22 Minutes did on “The Ron MacLean Movie” http://www.cbc.ca/video/#/Shows/22%20Minutes/Clips/ID=2212976807

    • Josh. says:

      I agree with almost everything you’ve said here – especially about Hotstove. It would be nice to see Sean Gordon invited on. He’s really good on the Globe’s Sports Roundtable podcasts.

    • rockjetty says:

      TSN does have much better analysis and panelists. However, it would be tragic if TSN won the rights to HNIC for a number of reasons (despite scooping up the classic theme song — I have come to like the new CBC HNIC theme just as much). The first, as you point out, is their in game play-by-play and colour analysis. It is horrendous. Being an avid fan, I pick up a number of factoids from local broadcasters on CentreIce or watching the home feed of my team. The TSN guys drop these factoids, but at least half of the time, they get them wrong. Plays whistled down are often hastily justified by the PBP guy as they go to break, and are flat out wrong (last night Kings-Canucks game the Kings went offside and the announcer said the play was whistled for contact by a high stick…). I find myself calling the game, actively disagreeing with the commentator, or correcting them as the game goes on — it is annoying. The CBC in game coverage is top notch, bar none.
      The access across Canada to those without cable is where TSN also fails. Hockey is in our blood, and part of that is because CBC reaches everyone. Back in the 80s, I watched Jets-Canucks games on a black and white set with rabbit ears powered by a generator, on a small island off the coast of Vancouver Island. It was fuzzy, but we loved it. It is the peoples’ game in Canada. If TSN gets the rights, it will no longer be the peoples’ game… It will be the people who have cable’s game, and that would be a shame.
      CBC could definitely use a shake-up in their panelists to freshen their approach, but I don’t think they can compete with TSN’s private cash for talent. MacLean usually only gives his opinions in matters where officiating is concerned, as is his background. Should he be muzzled as the moderator from piping in his opinion when the topic enters his area of expertise? Probably not. He should be muzzled if he is tempted to commit slander on a player, as in the Burrows incident — there must be a producer of the show that has an idea of what he’s going to say beforehand. Commenting on the severity of an infraction, the lack of teeth to the suspension is fair game. What he should have also done was call out the on-ice officiating crew, who missed the 5 and a game call for elbowing that led to the game getting out of hand as Keith was challenged by every player on the Canucks bench for the remainder of the game.

      • Morgan Grainger says:

        Presumably CTV would carry much or all of the Saturday night package, using TSN talent. Having the Canadian national TV rights go cable-only would be bad for the League, and I can’t see them going for it.

  4. terry says:

    Being from the States I have no first hand knowledge of this, but I can’t imagine that CTV would give up the entire Saturday night block of commercial programming for hockey…I could see them running the early game then having the western game on TSN.

    As for CBC, I’ve been a MacLean fan since first seeing him back in the early 90s when the only times i could watch HNIC would be on trips to Detroit or Buffalo. Like others above, I think he is hampered with some weak talent (Stock and Healy especially) around him. The Burrows thing was definitely over the top, but I don’t mind some opinions from Ron. As someone else said, a Hotstove with him, Friedman (who is excellent) and one other knowledgable person would be much better. Maybe follow the TSN lead and hire the next big name coach who gets fired.

    • Ryan says:

      Saturday night hockey would get better ratings than anything CTV has shown on Saturday night for decades, if not ever.

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