TENCER: MacLean says "it's just a matter of time"
The host of Hockey Night in Canada since 1987, Ron MacLean got his broadcasting start doing radio and television in the late 1970's in Red Deer, Alberta.
"We used to have a bar on the south end of Red Deer, The Rose & Crown, where we had a red stripe right down the middle of the bar," MacLean recalls. "The Oilers fans were on one side and the Flames fans were on the other."
So, which side of the stripe was Ron MacLean on?
"I started a little bit as a Calgary fan because they were the first to contend," he tells me. "It was weird because I really liked the Eskimos, so everything was Edmonton for me in all my sporting interests. But, the '81 Flames somehow got a hold of me. But then, Edmonton just took over. They were so exciting. I can remember we'd go play racquetball and sit with a beer and watch the Oilers, and they'd be down 6-1 and win 9-6."
For MacLean, the way the new Oilers club is built has some exciting similarities to the style of play that was here in the 1980's. In a recent chat with Wayne Gretzky, The Great One told me that he'd like to see what Grant Fuhr's numbers might have been on a different team because, in his words, "we didn't play defense at all". Now, the game has changed dramatically, and there's plenty of focus on defense as compared to 25 years ago, but MacLean thinks the old cliche that "defense wins championships" doesn't ring true any more.
"I wouldn't worry about that line of Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle, sticking to their offensive guns," he says. "You, honestly Dan, in the new NHL, score your way to the Cup. You don't win it by having the top goals against any more."
He says the core of this team is going to be very similar to the group that played here once. "When they get rolling, just get out of their way."
MacLean points to the 2012 Champion Los Angeles Kings, who didn't start their ascent until they started to find consistent offense in the final quarter of the regular season and into the playoffs.
The Kings also offer an example in another area that MacLean thinks the Oilers can follow, also harkening back to the team here once upon a time. In our conversation (you can hear it by visiting http://www.630ched.com/insidesports/episodes.aspx), MacLean talked a lot about the foot soldiers and depth forwards on great teams as a complement to the higher-end skill players. Whether it's Los Angeles or Boston or Detroit or Pittsburgh, or on and on, the so-called "role" players or "grinders" are a group that MacLean sees as vital, especially when it comes to physical intimidation.
"They were very intimidating with Lumley and Hunter and Semenko," MacLean says. "I know there's a lot of Edmontonians that don't see the value in maybe the Mike Brown's of the world, but I sure do. I think that's one area that they're gonna have to shore up."
Creating the right mix by adding some more pieces to the puzzle in the area Ron talks about is something that everyone seems to be in agreement on, even the management of the team who have made it clear for some time now that they're always on the lookout for more size. That said, there's some criticism of the size of the top players of the team, as well. The notion that no matter how skilled, it might be tough to win if the star players aren't a certain size. MacLean sees the argument, but cautions against being too quick to judge at this young stage.
"Part of that is that they're just going to grow into being men," he says. "As a general rule, it takes 5 years to fill out."
It's also not just the size of the dog in the fight, as the old saying goes, but mostly the size of the fight in the dog.
"I think Eberle can play it as tough as you want," MacLean continues. "There's no doubt that Hall can play it as tough as you want. I don't know Yakupov, but he looks like a bull, right?"
There will be plenty of debate about what the next moves are as this team continues to be pushed in an upward direction, but despite the frustration of the growth process at times, Ron MacLean doesn't have any doubts about the foundation that has been assembled and where they'll end up.
"With that core, I don't care what anybody says, it's just a matter of time."