TSN/NBC hockey personality Pierre McGuire is clearly the best analyst in the game today. It’s not even close. Over the decades, the jobs of play-by-play man and analyst have both evolved. And that’s why McGuire is one of the best ever.
Years ago, the prime qualification for working the booth as an analyst was having been a reasonably skilled NHL player. Bobby Hull tried it. Don Cherry was in the booth. So was Gary Dornhoefer, ironman Garry Unger and Brian Conacher. None was excellent. Some were bad. Defenceman Bob Goldham had a 15-year NHL career and did a fine job on Hockey Night as Bill Hewitt’s analyst in the 1960s. But few in Goldham’s day were very good.
After a coaching career in the NHL, including a brief stint as the head coach of the Hartford Whalers, McGuire ended up as a broadcaster. Sadly, when McGuire began at TSN, some producer – one with more mouth than brain – gave him some very bad advice. They obviously told him part of the TV equation was being loud. Very loud. And that he needed a shtick. So McGuire started screaming. “El Kabong” on big hits. He also referred to players and plays as “Monster!” Too loud. Way too loud. Way too aggressive. Get outta my face, Pierre!
But, over the years, McGuire has figured the gig out. The way he speaks to the viewer now is absolutely perfect. Not too much technical jargon, but just enough to indicate that he knows the game…and to provide a learning opportunity for the viewer. This is extremely important. Learning and teaching are key to the analyst role. The stock phrase producers use to up-and-coming analysts is “Tell me why that happened.” Very few analysts can actually do it. Mostly because they have no idea why that happened. Listen closely to some very prominent HNIC analysts. Very few can do it. McGuire doesn’t talk down. And he doesn’t talk up.
Current St. Louis Blues’ executive John Davidson was one of the best. JD combined humour with stories with a love of talking with a goaltender’s understanding of the game. In Montreal, for years, Dick Irvin was a perfect compliment to Danny Gallivan. Dick’s analysis wasn’t his strongest suit, but he worked wonderfully with the eccentric Gallivan. That’s pretty much the same way Bob Cole and Harry Neale worked on Hockey Night in Canada. Neale was great. Funny, witty, insightful and relaxed. They found what works for them. McGuire has his own skill set that works for him. And his “Think-like-a-Coach” mentality tops that list.
Want more proof that McGuire is the best? He flips effortlessly back-and-forth between two completely different production teams and on-air crews. On TSN, he’s with pxp man Gord Miller. Their styles dovetail beautifully. McGuire makes Miller better. Miller does the same for McGuire. McGuire is animated only when he needs to be. On NBC, McGuire is the generation bridge between in-booth analyst Ed Olczyk and pxp man Mike “Doc” Emrick. On NBC, McGuire has very little sense of humour and animation – unlike Davidson and Neale – and that’s just fine. In fact, it plays perfectly into NBC’s no-nonsense approach to coverage.
McGuire’s in-game interviews with coaches and his pre- and post-game questions to players are excellent television. There aren’t many athlete Q-and-As you can say that about. Ever. Watch and listen to McGuire closely – and learn about the game and broadcasting.