Cameras will follow more than a dozen NHL stars this winter as part of a new reality show that will air on CBC.
NHL Revealed: A Season Like No Other will chronicle the league's "Stadium Series" games, Heritage Classic and the 2014 Winter Olympics with the kind of behind-the-scenes access previously reserved for HBO's 24/7.
"You may hear many beeps," executive producer Ross Greenburg said on a conference call Monday. "You will not hear the actual colourful language, but you'll be able to decipher and lip-read at times."
The seven-part series will be broadcast on CBC in Canada and NBCSN in the U.S. beginning Jan. 22 and feature players from the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. Those are the seven teams involved in the league's five extra outdoor games this season beyond the Winter Classic between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. That game will be the subject of "27/7."
This season is part of a long-range plan by the league to grow into what COO John Collins estimated could be a $4-billion business. The NHL was at $3.3-billion in 2011-12 before the lockout.
"We've been focused now for probably over the last six years in growing our global scale and business," Collins said.
The show is supposed to be a showcase for that. Nowhere is that more evident than the expectation that there will be inside access at the Olympics in Sochi.
It's a stark contrast to Vancouver and other Games because the NHL isn't even allowed to have video of Sidney Crosby's gold-medal-winning goal on its website. The NHL sought more control over photos and video in 2014, and this program could bear the fruits of that agreement with the International Olympic Committee.
"The IOC basically said: 'If CBC and NBC are comfortable with this, then obviously we're comfortable with it,"' Collins said. "It created a really unique opportunity to do this."
Commissioner Gary Bettman said last week in Toronto that the league "had to" send players to the Olympics because there was so much interest in going. A nine-hour time difference from Sochi to the East Coast of North America causes problems, as does taking a break in the middle of the regular season.
"The question is how we can use (the Olympics) to grow the sport and grow the league brand but also to keep the momentum going in our business," Collins said.
The NHL's hope is that this program will do that.
Greenburg, who worked on the first incarnation of HBO's 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic, former CBC executive Julie Bristow and Steve Mayer of IMG Productions will serve as the executive producers. It will be produced by Toronto-based Bristow Global Media.
Unlike the Emmy Award-winning 24/7 program, the producers said the focus will be on the players, rather than the coaches who tended to get emphasized on when it was just two teams.
Some of the players expected to be showcased are Sidney Crosby of the Penguins, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane of the Blackhawks, Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Canucks, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers, Jonathan Quick of the Kings and John Tavares of the Islanders. Barring injury, all of those players are expected to participate in the Olympics as well as the Stadium Series.
Greenburg said if they see good storylines in other players in the lead-up to the Olympics, "we will pounce on those as well." In other words, Chris Kunitz could be in line to be a supporting actor.
Bristow said the "temples" where the games are played — Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Yankee Stadium in New York, Soldier Field in Chicago and BC Place in Vancouver — will also be in the spotlight.
Only one of those games is actually taking place in Canada, but CBC, Canada's Olympic rights-holder, had a major role in making this production happen. Rogers Sportsnet is also set to re-broadcast all seven episodes.
"This series, I think, really capitalizes on the excitement for the game of hockey in Canada," CBC executive Jennifer Dettman said. "I think it's going to give Canadian hockey fans a new perspective and bring them closer to the game than ever before."