Contract snag ices Ron MacLean
Date: Tuesday, October 01 2002
Hockey Night in Canada host out of work after salary negotiations break down
Ron MacLean, who was more recognizable on Hockey Night in Canada telecasts for the past 16 years than many of the players on the ice, is out of work.
."We've just lost our best player," said Harry Neale, the former Vancouver Canucks general manager, who has worked as a colour commentator on the broadcasts since the late 80s.
MacLean, 42, who played straight man to the bombastic Don Cherry on Hockey Night in Canada's signature segment Coach's Corner, and also hosted the weekly regular-season show and all their playoff duties, could not come to agreement on a new four-year contract.
Ironically, he was represented by powerhouse agent Don Meehan, whose clients include Curtis Joseph, Jarome Iginla and current league MVP Jose Theodore. Meehan got rich contracts for his player clients, but with the free agent MacLean, he struck out.
Meehan said he'd hammered out a deal with head of CBC Sports Nancy Lee but when it went up the food chain to her bosses, it was rejected. There was no further negotiation, perhaps ironic given that MacLean referees amateur hockey games as a hobby. This time, he took himself out of the game.
"This is a real blow," said John Shannon, the former head of Hockey Night, who now runs the Leafs TV in Toronto. "Hockey Night survives all of us leaving. It survived Foster Hewitt leaving. Danny Gallivan, Ward Cornell and Dave Hodge (two former hosts).
"But that doesn't mean he won't be missed. Ron makes it look easy. It's a real test for some people, but he's like a Ferrari, going fast and straight."
MacLean, who was born in Red Deer and got his start at CKRD as a weatherman before moving to Calgary to host the Flames' TV broadcasts, was in Calgary at a banquet at the Glencoe Club on Monday.
He told CBC Newsworld: "There's no hard feelings. At the end of the day, I had to put a value on myself and my services and hope they saw it the same way I saw it."
He didn't shut the door on another go-round over his contract, but that seems unlikely.
"We're a bit stunned and hope there's an out-of-the-box idea we haven't thought of," said MacLean, who won four Gemini awards as Canada's best broadcaster, not only for his work on HNIC, but for his hosting duties at the Olympics, where he and CBC veteran Brian Williams worked long hours.
Williams, who has a daily radio commentary called Grapeline with Cherry, may step in to replace MacLean on Coach's Corner, the spot during the first intermission of games.
The hosting duties might go to Scott Russell, who currently hosts the second half of the Saturday double-headers. "I think they may need two people for this," said Neale.
Meehan saw no reason to continue negotiations after the CBC higher-ups didn't like the deal he'd struck with Lee.
"He's an independent guy. A talented guy. He'll step back and see where he goes," said Meehan.
"We had a deal, endorsed by Nancy Lee, and it was taken off the table," said the agent, who felt further talks were a waste of time because he believed Lee's superiours would try to grind MacLean down.
Lee said "money had played a part in it." She wanted MacLean back; in fact he was on a conference call a few weeks ago with Neale and current HNIC producer Joel Darling talking about the upcoming season. The contract decision wasn't up to her; it was made further up the food chain.
Meehan said MacLean wasn't after $600,000 a year as had been reported, which would have been a $200,000 annual raise. It may have been closer to $500,000. Whatever it was, the brass didn't like it, so he's gone from the show with their first telecast Oct. 12.
Cherry often seemed at odds with MacLean but it was all an act. They're the best of friends.
"I can't believe this," said Cherry, who just got a new deal of his own, some say for $700,000 a year. He's the showpiece of HNIC with his antics and outspoken comments, but he worked very well with MacLean.
"I believe they'll get back together," said Cherry, hopefully.
"I remember the first time Ron worked with Grapes (Cherry) he was terrified because Don can be a gruff guy on the air ... even though he's a nice guy (off it). They hit it off. They had a great chemistry together and they were bosom buddies on the road," said Neale.
Hockey hosts come and go, but MacLean has long had a knack for running things smoothly, talking to people on air while the director was yelling something in his earpiece, no matter what the fire was around him. He thinks very fast on his feet.
"I think he's the best sports host on either side of the border," said Neale, who lives in Buffalo.
"This isn't a slight against Don Cherry," said Shannon, "but Ron may have done his best work without Don ... with that Hockey Day in Canada show (once a year) and the roundtable discussions we did."
MacLean also hosted the Satellite Hot Stove between periods and anchored the playoff game shows, with Cherry and Kelly Hrudey.
"Ron has a great passion for the game, and he'll be fine. Dave Hodge left, and he never missed a beat," said Shannon.
"But it's still a sad day."
© Copyright 2002 Edmonton Journal