John Collins has a slight problem on his hands.
The NHL’s high-energy chief operating officer, Collins is the man behind turning the league onto an events-driven methodology. Under his watch, outdoor hockey became an annual Winter Classic that is now a Stadium Series, and the once two-day Entry Draft has taken to stretching over almost a half-week.
Collins’ problem isn’t that things are becoming too big. He, as does his boss, commissioner Gary Bettman, want all things NHL to become bigger.
Specifically, Collins is working towards a day when the NHL has produced enough original programming that its fans, who he concedes are generally tribal and territorial, have interest in watching TV shows that aren’t built specifically around their favorite teams.
That happened with the HBO “24/7 Winter Classic” series that bowed to rave reviews in 2010.
The “NHL Revealed” series has looked a lot like “24/7” – no coincidence since its executive producer, Ross Greenburg, who was president of HBO Sports when it first partnered with the NHL.
“NHL Revealed,” which resumes Thursday night with two hour-long episodes starting at 10 p.m. on NBC Sports Network, is a seven-part series build around behind-the-scenes footage of players for teams participating in the Stadium Series.
One of those players, by no coincidence, is the NHL’s top draw – Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Crosby’s popularity has helped to create Collins’ slight problem.
During the Winter Olympics men’s ice hockey tournament, Collins’ young soon took a serious rooting interest. His support was for Canada, because Crosby – his favorite player – was a member of that national team.
Young hockey fans around Pittsburgh also had their allegiances tested during the Olympics.
Fans of Crosby – and maybe more so, those in the hockey audience that cannot stand him – will enjoy the Thursday night episodes of “NHL Revealed,” because they are centered around the NHL players’ Olympic experiences.
“It’s almost like a Hollywood ensemble film where every character is a star.,” Collins said. “There’s a piece of footage where Teemu Selanne is talking about how it was really important for his young (Finland) team to play the Canadians in the preliminary round – and to actually play with them, and how it might help them down the road. Knowing what we know now, it was foreshadowing.
“But as he’s doing that interview, the ‘NHL Revealed’ cameras catch Sidney Crosby, who just happens to be walking behind him on his way to Canada’s dressing room. You get to see Crosby kind of take a quick, knowing glance at Selanne. It was a pretty cool moment.”
If anybody knows something about being the hockey faces of their respective nations and the importance of saying the right things even after difficult losses, those anybodies are Crosby and Selanne, respectively.
Moments away from the arena are what excite Greenburg about “NHL Revealed.” He said viewers should really pay attention to sequences when players are walking around the Olympic Village in Sochi, Russia.
Crosby’s interaction with Olympic athletes from Canada and other nations struck Greenburg as he reviewed raw video for the latest “NHL Revealed episodes.”
“There are some wonderful exchanges between him and (Team Canada defenseman Drew) Doughty when they are walking to practices,” Greenburg said. “People were coming up asking for pictures. Sidney was there smiling – at first giving them a nod, but then it became some fun dialogue between him and those people.
“We’re just getting to know these guys, specifically Sidney.”
Crosby, Greenburg said, “has taken to the camera crews” that has been with the Penguins for a couple of months.
So, too, has his fellow Penguins center Evgeni Malkin.
A few weeks before the Olympics, Malkin started making grand post-practice entrances into the Penguins’ dressing room. He was playing to the cameras.
Greenburg said one of the aims for “NHL Revealed” – specifically when it comes to Crosby – is to “humanize NHL players, instead of putting them on pedestals.”
Collins’ aim is to continue pushing with programming such as “NHL Revealed.” Clubs, he said, are becoming more open to granting behind-the-scenes access because of the response to shows like “24/7” and “Revealed.”
A behind-the-scenes look at the Stanley Cup playoffs is not on the horizon, Collins said; but gaining exclusive access to the big-buzz Olympic tournament was something for which the NHL could shoot that North America’s other major pro leagues could not.
No other sporting league in North America shuts down for the Olympics. Collins and Greenburg figured “NHL Revealed” could use the Olympics to help promote the NHL product after the Games.
That is what viewers will see with Episodes Four and Five of “NHL Revealed,” which can also be streamed online.
In all, Greenburg said a crew of about 50 people worked an average of 17-hour days for nearly three weeks, cutting across three countries and two continents, to put together the next two episodes.
Episode Four, in fact, promises to live up to the program’s name.
“There’s plenty from the Russian team in the first hour,” Greenburg said, adding that cameras tracked Alex Ovechkin – Russia’s version of Crosby in terms of mass appeal – for the entire tournament.
“He stayed around after Russia lost, so we were able to get the feeling of the Russian people in Sochi. The disappointment is pretty vivid on the screen.”
Normally, Penguins fans might not have a lot of interest in a behind-the-scenes look at Ovechkin – Crosby’s historic rival.
However, given what is now known about how Ovechkin and Malkin, never close friends, were on the same side of feeling mostly ostracized during their home country Olympics, Episode Four of “NHL Revealed” is probably worthwhile for its unique look at Team Russia’s dynamic.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,