The wave of the future in hockey entertainment is very clearly in behind-the-scenes, documentary style stories that follow the NHL’s players, coaches and management, interspersed with game footage that turns into hockey porn in the hands of talented editors.
The players are obviously the league’s glimmering asset, and those individuals shine brightly as featured players in the "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic" series on the HBO Network. It’s also what has made “Behind the B” such a point of local interest while pulling the curtain back on the Bruins to hand fans an intimate look.
It made all the sense in the world that the NHL, NBCSN and CBC all made a joint announcement this week about a new “NHL REVEALED: A SEASON LIKE NO OTHER” all-access series that will be aired this season on NBCSN and CBC. The program will be a more family-friendly version of the 24/7 show that will heavily feature the NHL players a la the “NHL 36” series from last season.
“This is part of the overall plan, the big plan on how to continue to build hockey, to make it more national, to get more people to pay attention to it," said NHL chief operating officer John Collins, the man given the biggest slice of the credit pie for hatching the highly successful Winter Classic.
"NBC is a partner on this, and they are giving it a pretty extensive platform. Then there is the international opportunity because of the Olympics and because of the appeal of hockey, and the appeal is a great opportunity for us. We have a combination of big television rights holders and also the opportunity to go digitally with all of this content. These guys are going to be shooting for almost 100 days and nights.
“There is going to be a lot more content that we can fit in seven one-hour windows. There will be a lot of little jewels ... and we want to find a home for that.”
The internet sounds like a pretty good place for said jewels so one would expect to see a generous helping of online content at NHL.com and perhaps NBC’s Pro Hockey Talk as they roll out the multi-platform puck extravaganza.
"NHL Revealed" is a seven-part series that will tell the stories of more than two dozen of the League’s top stars -- on and off the ice -- as they participate in 2013-14 regular-season games, including the four 2014 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series games and the Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic.
Additionally, the cameras will follow the stars to Sochi and back in February with the show set to begin in mid-January on NBCSN (Jan. 22) and CBC (Jan. 23), and re-broadcast in Canada on Sportsnet (Jan.26).
HBO will also air another round of their "24/7 Road to the Winter Classic" with cameras already following around the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, chronicling their every move. It will be interesting to see how “NHL Revealed” compares to "24/7" when both are aired around the same time, but it’s exactly the kind of programming for which diehard hockey fans are constantly clamoring.
Bruins players won’t be featured for much of the series given the focus on the outdoor games, but they could play a bit more prominent role when the cameras follow the players to Sochi for the Winter Olympics since the Black and Gold are expected to have anywhere from five to seven players competing for gold.
The minds behind the “NHL Revealed” series said that one of the big Sochi storylines will be teammates Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews grinding away with each other as Chicago Blackhawks teammates, while fully aware they’ll be facing each other down in Russia as major components on Team USA and Team Canada.
Additionally, the Sedin Twins, Jonathan Quick, Sidney Crosby, Henrik Lundqvist and John Tavares will be part of the opening narrative for the episodes chronicling the Olympic experience.
"[Toews and Kane] will be grinding it out as teammates and then all of a sudden finding themselves against each other in Sochi,” said "NHL Revealed" executive producer Ross Greenburg, who was also the mind behind the "24/7" series of programming for HBO. “We think that's fascinating, just trying to figure out what goes through the mind of a player.
“The players will be our entry point. But then we will settle in and give the viewer that inside drama of teams, and we will have nine teams.”
The Bruins aren’t participating in any of the outdoor games this season, so the Original Six franchise may take a bit of a supporting role in this maiden voyage for the NHL reality series. But Collins specifically referenced both Boston and Philadelphia as cities the league would like to pay another visit to for an outdoor game, and league sources have indicated to CSNNE.com that Gillette Stadium is a favorite in the running to host an outdoor Bruins game in the next couple of seasons as the NHL unfolds this marketing, moneymaking monster.
Major hockey fans in the city of Boston can take in this season’s "NHL Revealed" documenting so much that is good about the world’s best hockey league, and envision that their Bruins will be the star of the show soon enough.
DOUGIE LEARNING TO PICK HIS SPOTS
One of the big parts of Dougie Hamilton’s NHL apprenticeship is absorbing the defensemen lessons that can only be learned through game experience, and perhaps getting burned a few times in the process. The second year D-man is an apt pupil and a cerebral student of the game, so the lesson plan gets kicked up a notch every time the 20-year-old is skating with Zdeno Chara.
Those two defensemen have been paired together on and off over the last two years, but have played in four straight games since Adam McQuaid went down with a lower body injury.
On the one hand it means that Hamilton has the biggest D-man training wheel of all time playing on his left side, but it also means the raw blueliner is playing against the other team’s top forwards on a regular basis. That can mean dire consequences if Hamilton gets a little too aggressive or sloppy with his forays into the offensive zone. To wit, Hamilton and Chara were on the ice for a pair of goals against versus the Islanders back on Nov. 2 that saddled them both with a minus-2 for the game.
John Tavares and Thomas Vanek jumped on those chances given to them when the Bruins defense was in disarray, and Chara stressed it’s one of the biggest challenges facing an offensive defensemen matching up with another team’s top lines.
“You sometimes think that creating offense is the priority when you’re a young defenseman, but it’s not. You really, really have to focus on the defensive end,” said Chara. “They are the opposition’s best offensive players because they use offense to their best advantage. Maybe they are not as strong defensively, but that’s part of what makes them so strong at the offensive end.
“That’s why when you’re facing top [forward] lines, you really have to focus on them. At times you have to play a little bit different, and that’s especially true with young guys. You need to think defense and really stay at home, and only support the [offensive] attack if it’s like 100 percent. If it’s a 50/50 or 60/40 chance, those [top forwards] aren’t coming back as hard because they’re hoping to be able to catch you in those [odd man rush] type situations. They will really do that out there.”
In the latest four-game audition as Chara’s 'D' partner, Hamilton hasn’t had a point. But he also hasn’t been a minus player, and the Bruins have allowed seven total goals in those four games while playing pretty good defense aside from a shabby third period against the Senators.
Picking the right spots to take a chance offensively and worrying about which players are on the ice for the opponent are just two of the myriad things with which an NHL defenseman needs to occupy his mind on the ice. It’s the reason that the apprenticeship for a good defenseman can be a long, painful process, but the latest stint for Hamilton shows that he’s starting to figure things out in a season that’s been very good for the second-year player.
GATHERING SOME INTEREST
It was only a matter of time before other NHL teams wanted a little piece of whatever is making the Boston Bruins organization so successful over the last six years, and that means other NHL organizations wooing B’s front office members. Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning is on a short list of candidates that new Buffalo Sabres President Pat Lafontaine is interested in potentially interviewing for an open GM gig after the firing of Darcy Regier.
Benning spent 10 years evaluating talent and building up an impressive collection of young players during his time in Buffalo, and he’s done the exact same with a Bruins roster bursting with young, established talent just approaching their hockey primes. Clearly there’s a connection with Benning having served as a longtime assistant GM in Buffalo before Peter Chiarelli hired him away in Boston, and the feeling at this address is that it’s only a matter of time before both Benning and fellow assistant general manager Don Sweeney are running their own NHL teams.
Benning (scouting, talent evaluation and drafting) and Sweeney (player development) have both been a key part of Boston’s hockey success story, and both have earned a shot to be the top executive calling the shots. Also on that short list for the Sabres GM task force is Penguins assistant GM Jason Botterill, Toronto assistant GM Claude Loisselle, Pittsburgh special assistant to the GM Tom Fitzgerald and former Florida Panthers GM Rick Dudley.
Tough to see time perhaps finally catching up to Teemu Selanne, who has gone 10 games without a goal and doesn’t have a point in the six games since returning from the damage caused by a high stick to the mouth. On the season, the Finnish Flash has three goals and seven points in 18 games, but the 43-year-old still likes some of the chances he’s getting.
“Some nights I have great chances and just can't buy a goal,” said Selanne. “You just have to stay positive and work hard. There are no secrets really.”
* So why are the Penguins struggling? Entering last weekend, here’s what their top guns looked like:
Sidney Crosby: 1 goal in 8 games
Evgeni Malkin: 0 goals in 11
Pascal Dupuis: 0 goals in 12
James Neal: 0 goals all season
Those four players combine for a hefty $26.16 million against the cap, which the Penguins are strapped against given how top heavy their talent structure has become. Evgeni Malkin, in particular, has looked pretty bad after signing a gigantic contract extension with Pittsburgh last summer.
It’s starting to look like perhaps that offensive brownout against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals wasn’t such a one-time event after all, eh?
The Penguins hope that a 3-1 win over the Ducks on Monday will spark them after seeing Crosby pot a goal in the third period, and former Boston College forward Brian Gibbons score after being placed on a line with Malkin out of desperation after two scoreless periods for Pittsburgh.
* Interesting to hear Washington Capitals GM George McPhee as one of the few voices not in favor of extending overtime to 10 minutes, or holding two segments with 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 play for five minutes each. Instead McPhee suggested the teams switching ends for overtime, and giving both teams the long change that could open up longer shifts, difficult line changes and more offense.
“I would not be one that would vote for that because you’ve got players playing longer. Your top players are playing anywhere between 20-27 minutes now. You start adding time and now maybe you’re up to 30 minutes a game or 32 minutes a game,” said McPhee. “That’s more blocked shots, that’s more shifts that could lead to injury. What if you’re playing back to back? These things matter. While it’s fun to talk about these things we have to get all the opinions on the table and all the ramifications on the table and say is this where we want to go.”
The Bruins dressing room full of players were heavily in favor of altering the current format to avoid the shootout with mixed opinions on a 3-on-3 aspect to OT that doesn’t happen very often in NHL games.
* Tough break for former Boston College standout Patrick Eaves, who was waived by the Detroit Red Wings last week after getting into only a handful of games this season after injuring his knee/ankle at the end of the preseason. Eaves was also traded for by the Bruins four years ago solely to be bought out of his contract for cap relief, so he’s had more than a few ups and downs in his NHL career.
“He's a good player, there's nothing wrong with Patty Eaves at all, no question,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Patty Eaves is a good player, a real good person, and does everything right. We haven't been able to give him an opportunity to play enough. He wants to be in the lineup every night and he should be, he's a good enough player.”
* Congrats to Dennis Wideman, who played in his 600th NHL game on Tuesday night and celebrated with a minus-1 in a shootout loss to the Sharks. He’s still the only NHL player that I’ve ever seen actually trip over the blue line.
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.