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Nickelback and no hosts: How the 2012 NHL Awards will try to charm hockey fans

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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The annual NHL Awards are an interesting animal.

It's an awards show for a niche audience that tries to attract a broad one. It can draw celebrities, but only ones in the hockey clique; otherwise, the diehards watching the show will bemoan the unauthentic nature of the celeb guest. Its humor is uniformly hokey, save for those brilliant little moments of insider humor that pepper every edition.

"A hockey fan knows what's true and what's not," said Bob Chesterman, VP of programming for the NHL. "We want to try to avoid those [unauthentic] moments and expand upon the moments where people know they're watching true fans."

Which brings us to Jay Mohr, who hosted the NHL Awards for the last two seasons.

Does he like hockey? Undeniably yes. Did he come off as authentic? Not enough for fans that are still wincing from hearing him pronounce a certain Detroit Red Wings legend's name as "Whyzerman" last season,

So there will be no host for the 2012 NHL Awards, scheduled for the first time at the Encore Theater at the Wynn Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 20 broadcast live at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network and CBC.

Instead, it's a "hosting by committee" approach … and one, somewhat divisive musical guest.

"It's a progression but I think it's progressing the right way. The entertainment is there, but I don't think you have to alienate the fan to make it entertaining," said Chesterman.

The plan this year is to present more taped segments involving Kevin Smith, Will Arnett, Tracy Morgan and others. They'll be injected throughout the broadcast, including a 3-part segment from Smith on his love of the game.

Inside the theater, the "presenters" aren't going to engage in the usual stale Oscar banter before handing out a trophy.

"They'll be doing a little more of the heavy lifting. Instead of doing one award, they'll probably do a whole act," Chesterman said.

The roster for the show: Eric Stonestreet ("Modern Family"), Ray Liotta ("Goodfellas"), Adam Pally ("Happy Endings"), professional dancer and TV personality Cheryl Burke ("Dancing with the Stars") actors Kevin Connolly ("Entourage"), Colin Hanks ("The Good Guys," "Dexter"), Joshua Jackson ("Fringe"), Cory Monteith ("Glee"), Matthew Perry ("Go On," "Friends"), Vince Vaughn ("The Watch," "Wedding Crashers," "The Break-Up") and Michael Vartan ("Hawthorne," "Alias"); NBC's Pierre McGuire and Eddie Olczyk; Hockey Night in Canada's Andi Petrillo and PJ Stock; NHL Network's Barry Melrose and Kathryn Tappen; sports broadcaster Erin Andrews; and hockey legends Ted Lindsay and Mark Messier.

"With the Kings winning, it's a good connection for us now. It helped pave the way to people who are really interested now," said Chesterman.

There's also the connection with IMG Media, the production arm of the global talent management company, which will produce the awards under Steve Mayer. That helped boost the profile of the celeb guests, too.

Then there's that musical guest: Nickelback.

Not everyone is all that happy about Nickelback. From Puck Drunk Love:

They can't do anything without ticking people off; just the fact that they exist makes people uncomfortable. Who might I be referencing? Nickelback, of course! As Canadian as whatever passes for Canadian bacon on pizza, Nickelback has to somehow get lumped in with the NHL because that's what they think people want. When you have an entire city begging the League to not book them as the entertainment for the NHL's annual Face Off Weekend, that is not an endorsement for them to be entertainment for anything having to do with hockey.

So, well, why NOT book them as the musical guest for the 2012 NHL Awards? Stands to reason.

Chesterman said he's heard the gripes, but that the show's happy to have them perform. They'll kick off the event and then play another song later in the broadcast.

"They won't have any other involvement in the show," he said.

But Nickleback and the move from the Palms to the Wynn — whose theater brings the audience closer to the stage — fits with the NHL's approach to the show: engaging the fans in new and exciting ways.

"That's the approach we took this year. Trying to connect with the fans even more," Chesterman said.

That means playing to the die hards and trying to attract as many casual fans as possible.

"It's always tough to any league awards show," he said.

"This is the best opportunity to do that. You see the guys outside of their uniforms, wearing nice suits, good-lookin' guys," he said, "and there are some skits that poke fun at ourselves too."

What do you want out of the NHL Awards show, and does it look like the NHL's trying to provide it?

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