August 12, 2010
The new season of HBO's candid glimpse at NFL training camp, "Hard Knocks", premiered this week with a focus on the New York Jets. Well, not so much the Jets as Rex Ryan's linguistic dexterity with profanity, Darrelle Revis's holdout and Joe Namath's distracting old man physique.
The genius of the show is that even with the expected focus on star players, it manages to craft a compelling preseason narrative for players fighting for rosters spots. Come for Mark Sanchez and LaDainian Tomlinson; stay for John Connor, fighting to be the backup fullback and ever-acknowledging that everyone calls him "The Terminator."
It's natural that players like Lupul and James van Riemsdyk(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers would ask if "Hard Knocks" would work for the NHL. It's gorgeously shot in HD, it shows how hard these guys haul ass to prepare for the season and it seemingly presents them without the usual media filter (instead, it's the editors' filter, and great television can be made through it).
So would an NHL version of "Hard Knocks" work? Better question: Would the NHL ever allow it to work?
Reader Marc Siciliano thinks "Hard Knocks: NHL" would work for several reasons, including:
Imagine how compelling it would be to see how Hall works his way into the Oilers lineup, or to watch a vet on a try out contract make his mark on a camp full of younger players. Goalie battles would take on new levels, and fans would be able to see what really makes some of these players step up (or in some cases, step back).
I think the league would also have a great opportunity to take it to the next level. The NFL, or 'No Fun League' and it's GM's are notorious for holding back and erring on the side of caution. Granted, Hard Knocks is an incredible view into a functioning NFL teams workings, but I think the NHL is in a position to take it a step further and provide even more access, simply because it stands to have much less to lose than the NFL and much more to gain. A transparent front office could translate to a growing fanbase if they feel a team is being up front with them.
Let's be real; who doesn't appreciate honesty? It would be tough to push the envelope, but an inside look at player contract negotiations or possibly arena/ownership situations (on camera perhaps?) would be a pretty cool site to see.
Like I said, the show can be really boring at times. Hockey players can be really, really boring at times. But why not take a shot on something edgy? Whenever the NHL produces anything, it can't help but feel soft and down the middle. Hell, John Collins even said as much as that: he wants to keep the NHL Network from being too controversial or opinionated. Let the HBO folks draw some personality out of the game. That, and lots and lots of swearing
Two salient points here. First, it's been a plank in the Puck Daddy platform since Day 1 that the NHL broadcast a few completely uncensored games on HBO or another pay cable station. We're talking mic'd up players, no-hold-barred commentary (think Denis Leary without a 'bleep' button, doing a Boston Bruins game) and a focus on the edgier side of the NHL that doesn't necessarily jibe with VERSUS sponsors.
But Lepore deflates that balloon with a second point: The NHL isn't in the business of uncensored candor.
If John Collins doesn't want NHL Network to sound like talk radio, you think he wants NHL players to gleefully chirp R-rated taunts on national television?
You think the same hockey culture that chastised Canadian women drinking magnums of Molson after winning Olympic gold would allow scenes in which NHL rookies hang out in a pub near camp, chatting up fans with around three dozen shot glasses empty on the bar? (Which was a scene from "Hard Knocks" last night.)
We've had discussions over the years with plenty of NHL executives and team personnel about candor. About connecting players and fans on a different level than the corporately packaged, delicately filtered way that connection is made today.
Sure, hockey players are boring ... when they have 25 microphones in their face in the locker room, or they're staring into a camera for three minutes on NBC. Not so much when they're on the ice during camp, or shooting the breeze in the locker room or sitting around having longnecks after a scrimmage.
That's the access a "Hard Knocks: NHL" would require. That's the access that would endear previously random names on a roster to fans watching at home.
But, alas, that's the access the League isn't likely to agree to, leading to some watered-down, milquetoast NHL Network 'Hard Knocks-off' whose climactic scene is which Reebok hat Sidney Crosby(notes) decides to wear to a charity golf outing.