Ron MacLean's star rises, Glenn Healy's sinks as Rogers shakes up its NHL broadcasts

Things looked a lot rosier for George Stroumboulopoulos, right, when he replaced Ron MacLean, left, as Hockey Night In Canada host two years ago.
Things looked a lot rosier for George Stroumboulopoulos, right, when he replaced Ron MacLean, left, as Hockey Night In Canada host two years ago.

Not to lay this at the feet of the Canada's beleaguered NHL franchises, but had they not finished so low in the standings it's possible that George Stroumboulopoulos might stil be the host of Hockey Night In Canada.

And Glenn Healy and P.J. Stock might still have jobs, too.

In announcing that old hand Ron MacLean was being resurrected to replace Strombo yesterday, Rogers admitted that the lack of interest by Canadians -- and especially young and new fans -- precipitated the end of the two-year experiment with the former Much Music host. With  younger people joining others in avoiding hockey broadcasts, Rogers realized it had to hang on to its hard-core fans, who made no secret of their disdain for Strombo from Day One.

``The answer lies with the audience,"  Rogers NHL head Scott Moore said Monday in a conference call. ``(George) did a tremendous job, gave a lot of creativity to the task and worked extremely hard. But at the end of the day, we're in the business of listening to our fans and as much as (Strombo) appealed to some different demographics, the hard-core hockey fan had trouble in accepting that change.

``We want to make sure that our base is happy and satisfied."

That may also be behind Sunday's dismissal of analysts Stock and Healy, who were among 14 off-camera employees and contract workers let go. That total doesn't include Damien Cox, who last week was reassigned to the Prime TIme Sports radio show.

``Glenn is a terrific broadcaster ... but unfortunately he was one of the victims of our financial cuts today," Moore said. Healy, who has been on Hockey Night In Canada since 2009, declined comment.

Surviving the cuts are the likes of Elliotte Friedman, Nick Kypreos, Kelly Hrudey, Daren Millard and Doug MacLean. Added was Tara Slone, who will co-host Sundays with Ron MacLean.

While the conference call was a painful one for Moore, who championed Strombo as the new face of hockey two years ago, there were some happy people involved. One was David Amber, who was promoted to host of the late-night Saturday game.

The other was MacLean, relegated to the little-watched Sunday Hometown Hockey project two years ago, and now back in the big chair as well as continuing to direct traffic on Sunday nights.

MacLean says he never saw this coming.

``Of course I couldn't have expected it," he said, adding that he has ``mixed emotions" over what has happened. 

``It certainly isn't about revenge or any of those emotions," he said. `` It's strictly go do your job."

MacLean said he agreed wholeheartedly with the moves that saw him bounced to the low-rated Hometown Hockey show on Sundays and even figured that at age 56 he was ready to start heading out to pasture

``But then I realized I wasn't and I got kind of a renewed spirit when I did Sundays," he said.

Handling a workload that could see him in Toronto Saturday night and in Port Coquitlam, B.C. on Sunday won't be daunting, he says.

``It's just a weekend's work," he said. 

Moore says he has no doubts MacLean can handle the workload.

``Ron is a tremendous host and bringing him back to the show along with David Amber I think will resonate with those fans," he said.

While the changes are significant, Moore doesn't believe they will play a big role in boosting the sagging NHL ratings, which have dropped more than 30 per cent since Rogers spent $5.2 billion on rights. 

``What attracts audiences, young and old, is winning," he said.