TORONTO (June 29) — Depending on which faction you are most drawn to, there is either unvarnished glee or abject disappointment over Glenn Healy’s departure this week from Hockey Night In Canada.
Typically, there is no ambivalence.
And, that is why, in my view, Healy represents an incalculable loss for the Saturday–night package of TV games. In the increasingly conservative environment of hockey telecasts — largely governed by the cross–pollination of network and team ownership — Healy ventured outside the lines. He had the gall to speak his mind; to criticize, when warranted, the “brand” (Rogers Communications owns 37.5% of the Toronto Maple Leafs) and to range well beyond the tedium of line match–ups, coach–speak and which defenseman had a “good stick” in helping to prevent a goal. Without Healy, the otherwise–solid, No. 1 HNIC tandem of Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson will need to inform and entertain. One is a strength; the other is not.
Healy’s candor left him vulnerable and, ultimately, exposed.
A telephone call last weekend from Scott Moore, the president of Sportsnet and NHL, informed the one–time goalie that his services were no longer required. “I’ve spent these past few days reflecting on the privilege of working so many years with the finest people in Canadian sports broadcasting — on the air and behind the scenes,” said Healy over the phone today. “I feel I contributed to helping establish a standard for Hockey Night In Canada each Saturday night. I have no regrets and only the fondest of memories.”
GLENN HEALY SITS IN THE AIR CANADA CENTRE PRIOR TO A LEAFS GAME. NATIONAL POST PHOTO
Those who know Healy will not be surprised that he’s taken the high road. I became well–acquainted with Glenn while covering the Leafs, home and away, for The FAN–590. He signed as a free agent in the summer of 1997 and spent four seasons backing up Felix Potvin and Curtis Joseph. During that time, he was a reporter’s delight — funny, insightful, and always respectful of the opposition. When the Leafs bought out the final year of his deal after the 2000–01 schedule, Glenn was contacted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to assume the role of analyst. He began by working alongside the late (and legendary) Don Wittman for a game in Edmonton preceded by a ceremony to honor the great winger, Jari Kurri.
“I got so caught up in that tribute that I forgot to put on my head–set,” Healy laughed. “There was a video–package of Jari’s career and Wayne Gretzky came out to make one final pass to his ex–line–mate. I was like a little kid, watching the whole thing. At one point, Don looked over at me and said ‘hey, stupid, put your head–set on. How do you expect to communicate like that?’ It was an immediate lesson from the Master.”
As with all opinionated members of the Fifth Estate, Glenn evolved into a polarizing figure. Much of the silly Twitter–verse is agog over his departure — thoroughly convinced it “got him fired” for his constant “Leafs bashing.” Same goes for Internet forums and chat–rooms dedicated to the team. That many of these anonymous people couldn’t spell “cat” without being spotted the “c” and “a” is hardly a deterrent.
Right now, they are united in triumph.
“It makes me laugh,” Glenn said. “The truth of the matter is not once — and I mean not a single time — did any person approach me on the street or at the arena with negative comments about my work. All anyone wanted was a picture or a selfie. And, they always had kind remarks. It was very flattering. So, I don’t believe the Twitter or Internet world accurately represents the feeling toward me. Nor, do I pay much attention to it. I know there were a couple of ‘Fire Glenn Healy’ websites. One of them on Twitter had something like eight followers. Another one tried to generate a petition to send to [Rogers]. It came up 50,000 signatures shy of its target. Social media isn’t the most sophisticated measure of someone’s worth. Let’s put it that way.”
Nor can Glenn figure why so many contend he is “anti–Leafs”.
“I grew up in Toronto a big Leafs fan and I wound up taking a million dollars less to sign with the club as a free agent,” he recalled. “I still remember being in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room at the Bell Centre with Rejean Houle, Dave King and other members of their executive and coaching staff. It was pretty much locked in I was going to join the Habs. But, my agent [the late Larry Rauch] called my cellphone and said ‘get the hell out of there, you’re signing with the Leafs.’ It wasn’t the most graceful departure I’ve ever made from a group of hockey people. But, yeah, I took a million dollars less to go home (after four years with the New York Rangers). And, I never had a moment’s regret. Montreal wound up signing Andy Moog.”
Then there’s the theory that Glenn became a Leafs “basher” because the team did not hire him as general manager in the summer of 2003. The position, instead, went to John Ferguson Jr.
“Oh, gosh, no,” Healy replied. “All you have to do is see me in the [Air Canada Centre] hallway with Larry Tanenbaum. I have tremendous respect for him and we’re still great friends. The truth is, Fergy was a better choice. He had a solid background in scouting and he made a terrific presentation to the [Leafs] Board. Interestingly enough, my vision 13 years ago was to tear down the entire Leafs structure and start from scratch. Sound familiar? Back then, the approach was considered too maverick. Today, it’s the modern way to build a team. I can’t be more direct than to tell you there isn’t a smidgen of resentment toward the Leafs for not getting that management job. It was an honor just to be considered.”
I ended our conversation by asking Glenn if he would miss the Hockey Night gig.
“The 100th anniversary of the NHL and the Leafs is coming up. There are going to be some very special moments on TV. Will I miss being a part of that? Absolutely,” he admitted. “Otherwise, it may be time to concentrate on my family for a change. I think I was home for three out of 67 nights in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. That doesn’t exactly cultivate balance between work and private life. And, yes, there will be another chapter to the Glenn Healy story. Will it unfold 24 hours from now? Will it be in management — which is still a desire and option — or back in media? I haven’t a clue.
“But, I am quite certain hockey folks haven’t seen the last of me.”
WHAT’S UP, COACH?
I WAS LOOKING THROUGH THE APRIL 1963 ISSUE (BELOW) OF HOCKEY PICTORIAL MAGAZINE WHEN I CAME ACROSS THE PHOTO, ABOVE. FANS OF THE LEAFS AND SAN JOSE SHARKS, IN PARTICULAR, MAY RECOGNIZE THE CUTE, SMUG–ISH KID AT FAR–LEFT. YES, INDEED, IT IS EIGHT–YEAR–OLD RON WILSON, POSING WITH HIS BROTHERS. RON’S DAD, LARRY WILSON, COACHED THE AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE BUFFALO BISONS. OL’ RONNIE’S FACE HASN’T CHANGED IN MORE THAN HALF–A–CENTURY.
My chat, Wednesday afternoon, with former colleague Rick Ralph on TSN–1290 Radio in Winnipeg about all things Toronto Maple Leafs…