Class act, Ron MacLean, deserves to be back as HNIC host

TORONTO - Phil Kessel must have laughed at one of the best "Up yours, Toronto" moments in years when he held up the Stanley Cup last week.

There’s even word Kessel is bringing the Cup to Toronto -- you know, just to rub the salt in the wounds.

Regardless of the situation, there’s no feeling better than pointing out to the very people who gave up on you that they were wrong.

But there will be none of that with Ron MacLean.

No victory lap. No flip of the finger or microphone drop.

The guy is all class, which is a good reason why Hockey Night in Canada wants to bring him back this fall for the 2016-17 NHL season. He didn’t burn any bridges when he had every reason to do just that after being replaced with “younger and hipper” George Stroumboulopoulos.

In fact, MacLean, who had been in the host's chair for almost three decades, was supportive.

“I think it’s a great idea to get George -- someone younger, it’s always good,” he told reporters at the 2014 announcement. “Dave Hodge was 26 when he started, I was 26 when I started and we sort of broke in as the fresh faces to a great team.”

Always gracious and somewhat self-deprecating, he said “George can handle the show -- he’s a great ringleader.”

Of course, the audience decides what works and what doesn’t. From the beginning they did not like this experiment.

Look at the results of the Toronto Sun poll on that day in 2014 that asked: “Do you like the idea of George Stroumboulopoulos replacing Ron MacLean as the face of Hockey Night in Canada?”

The yes side had 16% of the votes while the no side was 84%.


And it never got better.

It was always going to be an uphill battle for George, who has tremendous talents and, like MacLean, is a great Canadian.

Was he miscast here? I don’t think so, actually. The guy loves hockey. I had this great picture of him when he was down to see his beloved Montreal Canadiens at the Hangar. He was like a kid in the candy store.

I grew to enjoy the panels with the excellent talents of Kelly Hrudey, Elliotte Friedman and Nick Kypreos. They all did the best they could with an on-ice product that sucked. The Maple Leafs were unwatchable the last two seasons, once you got past Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry and Ron in the first intermission.

It didn’t help that the rest of the Canadian teams didn’t make the playoffs. Blame that on Strombo if you like, but most realize he was the frontman for a dog’s breakfast.

Meanwhile, MacLean was on this strange Sunday night hometown hockey tour that was also not exactly lighting things up.

I said from the beginning what they should have done was give Strombo that show and groom him for the big job. Let him grow into his hockey pants.

The problem is there are no shortcuts to greatness. Hockey fans are not fairweather nor bandwagon people. They are a special breed and they like what they like. Change is not one of those things.

The one thing Sportsnet president Scott Moore got right was making sure MacLean was signed to a four-year contract because now he’s available to plug back into the big show.

None of this is official but sources say this is where things are going. Hockey fans will be glad to have Ron back where he belongs.

Strombo is too strong a broadcaster to not get another opportunity and I would like to see him back in the interviewing game because he’s so amazingly good at that.

So what about Ron MacLean and his feelings on all this?

He was telling me Monday he’s laying low in his office, preparing for the Rio Olympics and not commenting.

But I know Ron. If and when they call his number, he will be over the boards to do his part for the team.

There’s no ‘I told you so” coming from that gracious man. Leave that kind of thing to me -- or better yet, to a guy like Phil Kessel.

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