“Only Elliotte Friedman Is Safe”

TORONTO (July 8) — It was an alarming bit of speculation from a media source familiar to everyone in the Canadian sports television industry: “We may not recognize the Hockey Night In Canada panel next season,” claimed this person. “Based on what I’m told, only Elliotte Friedman is safe from the changes and cost–cutting measures on the horizon.” Rogers Communications is entering the last quarter of its record 12–year, $5.232 billion contract with the National Hockey League for exclusive rights (on all media platforms) to Saturday night games and the other major events on the schedule (Winter Classic, All–Star Game, Stanley Cup playoffs, NHL draft).

In a best–case scenario, Rogers could not have profited from its massive investment; the deal, signed in 2013, left the more–established TSN with regional hockey coverage and made good on a boast from veteran TV executive Scott Moore, who joined the company from CBC Sports in 2010 and said “I didn’t come here to finish second.”

To finish ahead of TSN, Rogers practically sold the farm. Moore and the former president of Rogers Media, Keith Pelley, somehow talked the company’s Chief Executive Officer, Nadir Mohamed, into signing the deal that narrowly edged out a bid from existing NHL partner, Bell Canada Enterprises (parent company of TSN). It was largely (and flimsily) predicated on the Toronto Maple Leafs and other Canadian teams enjoying lengthy excursions through the two–month Stanley Cup marathon. Neither did it foresee a worldwide pandemic that played havoc with the NHL schedule for parts of two seasons and curtailed advertising revenue. Nor was it particularly long before Moore, Pelley and Mohamed fled to other roles, leaving their successors to manage the economic fallout.

With the NHL pact set to expire after the 2025–26 season, Rogers will evidently reduce its on–air budget. How this might impact Hockey Night studio commentators Ron MacLean, Kelly Hrudey, Kevin Bieksa and Jennifer Botterill remains to be determined, but MacLean’s future, in particular, seems tenuous. For the bulk of 37 years — by far the longest tenure of any person — MacLean has hosted Hockey Night intermissions, taking over (in 1986) from Dave Hodge. For the first two seasons of the Rogers contract (2014–15 and 2015–16), the company replaced MacLean with George Stroumboulopoulos, hoping to generate a younger viewership demographic. MacLean kept his legendary spot alongside Don Cherry for Coach’s Corner in the first–period intermission but did not appear elsewhere in the production. Instead, he took over as host of a newly created traveling show called Hometown Hockey, which originated from smaller outposts across the country and included the Sunday night telecast of a game involving one of the Canadian teams (a perfect role for the folksy MacLean). Stroumboulopoulos, meantime, did precisely what Rogers asked of him, even if his jocular presence did not integrate the staid Hockey Night audience. George was let go after two years, with MacLean returning to his former post for the 2016–17 season.

It was after the infamous “you people” edition of Coach’s Corner (on Nov. 19, 2019) that MacLean’s enormous popularity began to decline. Cherry inadvertently grouped all immigrants to Canada in the same sentence while criticizing those who had not worn a poppy to honor Remembrance Day. Nationwide backlash provided Rogers the excuse it had long–been seeking to fire Cherry and recoup his seven–figure salary. MacLean, by all appearances, was forced between the old rock and a hard place. At the threat of losing his own job, he went on the air prior to the Sunday Hometown Hockey telecast and apologized to the country for Cherry’s remarks the previous night… even though MacLean had sanctioned the “you people” homily with his patented thumbs–up gesture. This was seen by Cherry’s innumerable advocates as throwing the coach under the bus. MacLean’s following immediately plummeted and his brother–like relationship with Cherry ended on the spot. Neither have been reclaimed.

From a personal perspective, this was disappointing. I had gotten to know MacLean and Cherry while traveling (for more than 15 years) to Maple Leaf Saturday road games as a reporter for The FAN–590; then throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs. Invariably, we’d be on the same outbound and return flights; often saying hello in the Aeroplan lounges across the circuit. Ron is exactly as he appears on TV — outgoing and friendly, devoid of ego and arrogance. He ranks among the truly finest people I’ve met in the sports media business. I didn’t get to know Cherry quite as well, but his gruff on–air persona had forever been neutralized by compassion and kindness away from the public eye. I’ve told the story about a friend whose dying father wanted to speak with the old coach. I called Cherry to pass on the request for a quick telephone chat. Only later did I learn that Don had sent a limo to pick up my friend’s dad, who was riddled with metastatic cancer, and drive him to the Don Cherry’s Grapevine restaurant in Mississauga, Ont. Whereupon the two men shared a leisurely lunch. I have therefore derived no personal pleasure from the demise of Coach’s Corner… or the fracturing of MacLean’s nationwide popularity.

I may be wishing upon a star, but I truly hope that Ron and Don can end their estrangement. Before it’s too late.

As it did elsewhere, the COVID–19 scourge deeply impacted the sports media business.

MacLean is said to be making $450,000, which is hardly the richest media salary in the land.

Still, his younger and cheaper colleague, David Amber, could likely move into the No. 1 chair without a ton of fallout. Despite my admiration for Amber, who has risen impressively through the ranks since his early days as a TSN reporter, I hope that Ron will go out on his own terms. Not on Rogers’. Friedman is the best hockey reporter on the planet. Under no circumstance will Rogers allow him to escape until the NHL contract is over. And, perhaps not even afterward. As for Hrudey, Bieksa and Botterill, who all do splendid work for Hockey Night In Canada, economics may lead to their unjust demise. Especially if the latest company bloodletting goes forth, as anticipated.

Rogers, with 37.5% control of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, also has a hand in deciding the future of veteran Leafs radio broadcasters Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph. When the Leafs were eliminated by Florida on May 12, Bowen signed off “maybe for the last time.” But, the 72–year–old voice of the Maple Leafs since 1982–83 expressed optimism, earlier this week, that he and Ralph will be accorded new contracts. The option is for MLSE to simulcast the sound from Leaf telecasts on radio, which is literally scraping the bottom of the broadcasting barrel.

Let’s hope the billion–dollar MLSE behemoth comes to its senses.


33 comments on ““Only Elliotte Friedman Is Safe”

  1. Have had the pleasure of meeting Bieksa several times. Great guy, approachable, with-a great sense of humour. He knows the game better than most given his years playing and brings a wit to the broadcast that most lack.
    Amber seems forced and lacks the knowledge of the sport.
    Why would sportsnet get rid of someone who is a natural and brings so much to the broadcast? I hope you are mistaken

    1. Where did I say that Sportsnet is “getting rid” of anyone? There is speculation, yes, based on a tip from a good source. But, nothing concrete. Read the blog again.

  2. Ron MacLean has to go. Don Cherry made him look good and he backstabbed Don. Please, time for him to go.

  3. Rogers will be able to replace Ron for a lot less than $450k. I am not the biggest fan, but he is very gregarious. The incident with Don was unfortunate, but it had been clear for a while that the network wanted to move on from him. To be honest, does it really matter who hosts the intermission? I can see someone like Jeff Marek becoming the next host. He already has the relationship with Elliotte, is already working for the network, has lots of on air experience, and could slide right in to Ron’s position, probably for a lot less money.

  4. I am always amused by the antics of the off ice personalities . Many years ago, one such hilarious event was when Ron and Don were renegotiating their contracts with the CBC. They proclaimed “We are the stars of Hockey Night in Canada”. I laughed and laughed about that statement. As if to think people tuned into Hockey Night in Canada to watch broadcasters. Spoiler alert, people tune in to watch some of the best ice hockey in the world being played. When will those ego driven broadcasters realize that they are only small ancillary components of a professional sports league.

    1. Laugh all you want, Richard. But, the country literally stopped each Saturday night during Coach’s Corner. There never has been – and never will be – anything like it.

      1. and never will be. I enjoy watching many different hockey telecasts, and each broadcast crew is unique, however it’s the on ice action that gets my attention.

      2. The country did anything but stop.

        When coach’s corner was about to start, it was time for a bathroom break, grab new beverages, stretch, refill snack bowls. The last thing any of us were interested in were the antiquated verbal diarrhea spewing from some grumpy old man yelling at clouds. Sour Grapes’ best before date was somewhere in the late 1980’s.

    1. Not just Ron but the other 3 as well. The first intermission is when I put my tv on mute.
      Bieksa is full of himself, Hrudey tries but I think he is well past his best before date and am not crazy about Botterill but not because she is a woman. I like Cheryl Pounder.

  5. Next contract has to be a Rogers / TSN split. I can see it similar to the US where Rogers and TSN split the Stanley Cup playoffs (ie. one year a network takes the east the other they take the west) and alternate years with the Cup finals broadcast. CBC would stick around and broadcast the finals every year but the broadcaster / cable rights would alternate.
    Only real question would be who gets Saturday nights vs the other broadcasts and that will be the bidding war.

  6. You too can sound like Ron McLean, it’s easy I’ll show you how:
    Ron: Appropriate that Dale is playing at the Canadian Tire Center because that’s one tired Canadian

    Ron: Dale’s parents, Becky and Sam, own a hardware store in Welland and now here’s Dale about to lift the biggest piece of hardware in sports, the Stanley Cup
    Ron: Dale’s Grandfather was a founding member of the Welland Curling Cub, you might say he was Lord Of The Rings
    Ron: Dale’s Mom Becky said she used to have to mend the holes in Dale’s sweaters after every game, I guess that’s why they’re a tight knit family
    See it’s easy to be Ron

  7. Imagine at the end of the contract, Rogers can’t pay the 5.2 billion because of some bullsh** they always say. TSN or CBC should have been the rights holders. Rogers killed everything. CBC did everything right from announcers, hosts, graphics you name it.

  8. Good riddance to Ron. Elliotte will indeed be safe, as the corporate overlords will tolerate one white male’s presence. David Amber? You bet he’s the new lead. Spot on. Jenn Botterill? She won’t be going anywhere. Bieksa and Hrudey will be sacrificed to the diversity gods, and your 3rd and 4th panel members will be another former player of color and another former female player (something like Tessa Bonhomme from TSN, and let’s say, Anson Carter or Peter Worrell). Next round of cuts, let’s say in 2025, they will all get replaced by AI, and we fans are too destitute, and sick of eating crickets to notice.

  9. TSN has the best NHL coverage and its not even close. Rogers ruined hockey broadcasts forever. Get them out

  10. End the politically correct woke nonsense and talk about hockey.

    And Ron “Benedict Arnold” MacLean should have been gone a long time ago.

    He WON’T be missed.

  11. I loved Don Cherry for his controversial self and have met him personally. Loves and respects the military and I believe his comments regarding poppies was misconstrued.

  12. Great article thanks. As a 65 yr old I enjoy the current team of commentators and would Hate to see Rogers screw up a good thing. Keeping Ron is a no brainer. I’ve met him personally and he’s a great representative of Canada.

  13. Stupidity knows no end. To make the fans and these brilliant hosts like Ron Maclean victims is foolish. Considering the billions of dollars already spent. Rogers is showing their greed. Maybe it’s time to move our buisness elsewhere. My Rogers phone, my rogers TV and internet services will go .

  14. Great read! As you say, I hope Rogers comes to their senses, but, when there is a dollar to be saved – regardless if it costs $5 in the future, they will do it! As anyone who has Rogers Cable/internet/etc. (And Bell is the same!) They do not care about your business until you are out the door!! Thanks

  15. Ron MacLean can go. He’s a candy ass and likes to host a thousand panelists at a time. A hockey show needs one host and two panelists, maybe three, but no more.

  16. MacLean needs to go, immediately. His self-indulgent, non-sensical monologues, desperately obscure references, and non-hockey tangents are just look-at-me showboating, and detract from the broadcast.

    Furthermore he is a bad refereeing apologist, and dominates panel discussions – Elliott and others are frequently pissed off at his interruptions and non-sequiters although hide it most of the time with their professionalism.

    MacLean still thinks he’s the hockey gods’ gift to broadcasting, and wants to stay on longer than Bob Cole.

    Please Sportsnet, put us millions of viewers out of our misery and send MacLean back to small town Saskatchewan to bloviate with the cows.

    1. I agree completely,…its like a death march it seems with these long term commentators, MacLean, Cherry and Kelly Hrudey in particular. So far removed from relevance in regards to today’s game.

  17. They better keep Bieksa! He is awesome! He knows his stuff!! I’ve been watching hockey for well over half a century and I will not if Bieksa goes!

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