Rogers Media is planning to replace George Stroumboulopoulos with Ron MacLean as host of Hockey Night In Canada next season but many details need to be worked out before the deal can be declared official, according to multiple sources.
The chief stumbling block to the move is that Mr. MacLean, 56, is adamant that he will not give up his position as sidekick to Don Cherry on the Coach's Corner segment on Hockey Night, nor will he step down as host of Rogers' Sunday night show, Hometown Hockey.
A source says the Rogers plan has the backing of National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman, despite his past fractious relationship with Mr. MacLean.
The move also comes as Rogers has struggled in the first two years of a 12-year, $5.2-billion deal for the Canadian national broadcast rights to NHL hockey.
The negotiations with Mr. MacLean are continuing.
Until Mr. MacLean and his bosses, Rogers Media president Rick Brace, Sportsnet president Scott Moore and production chief Rob Corte, can work out how Mr. MacLean will do all three jobs, the ouster of Mr. Stroumboulopoulos, 43, cannot proceed, sources said.
If Mr. MacLean regains the job he held from 1986 to 2014, when he was demoted from host of Hockey Night to the Sunday-night show and his spot with Mr. Cherry, it will be a stunning comeback.
Mr. MacLean lost the post in no small part due to his battles with Mr. Bettman. The two clashed on the air many times during interviews as Mr. MacLean took a strong pro-player stand during the NHL's many labour squabbles. After Rogers cut the deal with the NHL, Mr. Moore said many times that he regarded the NHL as a partner. Mr. MacLean himself acknowledged his relationship with Mr. Bettman could have cost him the host's job.
Mr. Bettman could not be reached for comment and Mr. MacLean declined to comment in detail. "I can't say a thing until Rob Corte or Scott Moore say a thing [about the plans for the 2016-17 season]," he said Sunday night. But Mr. MacLean did add that when it comes to Hometown Hockey, "I'm not going anywhere, I'm really into that and committed to it and Coach's Corner."
Mr. Stroumboulopoulos did not respond to a request for comment. One of Mr. Stroumboulopoulos's friends said the broadcaster was in the midst of riding his motorcycle from Toronto to Los Angeles.
Several sources said Rogers' hockey employees are expecting to hear the company's plans for next season as soon as the NHL draft wraps up on Saturday. Over the past two years, Rogers has been hurt by the struggles of the seven Canadian teams, resulting in ratings declines and firings in the hockey department. Company staffers have said they expect sweeping changes to the hockey broadcasts over the summer.
Mr. Moore said in an e-mail that the story "is speculation. We won't comment on rumours." Mr. Brace and Mr. Corte could not be reached for comment.
One source said Mr. Moore was responsible for the decision and he has been considering the move for at least a year. Discussions are under way with Mr. Stroumboulopoulos's representatives about a contract settlement (it is believed he has two years remaining on his deal), the source also said.
Mr. MacLean took the loss of the Hockey Night host job in stride and remained loyal to Rogers. While the ratings on Hometown Hockey were disappointing, often because too few good games were shown that night, Mr. MacLean was said to have done an outstanding job as host. He broadcast each week from a small town in Canada and the show was seen by those at the top of Rogers Communications Inc., including chief executive officer Guy Laurence, as important from a community-building perspective. They loved Mr. MacLean's work and his stock with Rogers' top executives rose dramatically.
Mr. Stroumboulopoulos was hired to give the staid Hockey Night show a more youthful face. But his his style never captured the imagination of the television audience. Criticism of Mr. Stroumboulopoulos's skinny suits was frequent on social media and viewers also felt his passions – he still has a CBC radio show that focuses on music – did not lie with hockey.
Rogers hockey staffers contacted Sunday said they were not surprised about the pending move, which was signalled this summer in the surprise firing of Gord Cutler, the head of hockey production at Rogers.
Mr. Cutler was hired away from rival Bell Media's TSN and he, along with Mr. Moore, were behind the radical change in broadcast style from the CBC version of Hockey Night. Rogers sources said Mr. Cutler made it clear he was not as enamoured of Mr. MacLean and Mr. Cherry as the previous regime and their time on air was cut under the new boss.
But after Mr. Cutler was fired, Mr. MacLean and Mr. Cherry were seen more often on the air during the playoffs. So was another old CBC hand, legendary play-by-play announcer Bob Cole. Rogers insiders say viewers can expect to see a return to a more traditional look for the hockey broadcasts this fall.
With reports from James Bradshaw and James Mirtle