Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Has HBO 24/7 Series Become Bigger Than Winter Classic Game Itself?

Over the course of the past few months most have reported, but no one has confirmed that the 2012 NHL Winter Classic will have the New York Rangers traveling to Philadelphia to take on the rival Flyers.  This morning, Larry Brooks of the New York Post, via twitter said that the match-up will happen on January 2 and that both teams will participate in HBO’s 24/7 this fall.
Will be no surprise, but when NHL schedule is released, confirmed that Rangers will be in Philly for Jan. 2 Winter Classic w/ 24/7 coverage.
The most interesting thing about the reaction to Brooks reporting was that much of it revolved around the Rangers being on 24/7 as opposed to the game itself.  Maybe that is partially because the rumors of the 
matchup have been out there for months, but so has the assumption that any future participation in a Winter Classic required the participation in the HBO series.  It appears that the behind the scenes look into the lives of the NHL and its players has actually become bigger than the biggest regular season game itself.  That is not a bad thing either.

The NHL was looking to use the exposure of the HBO mini-series to reach a wider group of viewers and that appears to be happening.  Now instead of the focus just being on the fact that a regular season NHL game is being played outside, there is a series of discussions about what could be seen on this season’s show.  That kind of buzz and talk is something that the NHL needs in order to continue to grow the sport.  The diehard hockey fan is going to watch both the show and the game regardless of who is involved, but using the show to bring in the casual fan and have them form an attachment to the players increases the likelihood of them watching the game and sticking with the sport.  

The early favorite in discussing what could be seen on the show revolves around New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and his already colorful press conferences.  To see what he can do at press conferences, one gets excited to see what HBO could catch behind the scenes.  Will Tortorella curse as much as Washington Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau?  Do not discount the chances that it will be Flyer coach Peter Laviolette who comes out with the mouth and temper as while generally more composed with the media he gets very heated on the bench.  

Having personalities like Sean Avery, Brian Boyle, Martin Biron, Brandon Dubinsky, Mike Richards and Chris Pronger should make for entertaining television.  There will be natural storylines of the rivalries between the cities and about whether each team will be able to contend for a championship.  Much of the storylines have yet to be written because there is no way to fully know what the teams will look like until the offseason kicks into high gear with free agency next week.  No matter what the teams look like the combination of personalities on the rosters and storylines to follow will lead to increased interest both during and after the completion of the series.  It is likely that when the Winter Classic itself is over this coming January that the most memorable part of the whole event will be the mini-series and something that occurs on it before the game ever happens, which would not bother the NHL in the least.  After only one year, HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic has found a way to dominate the game itself and the sport is better for it.

For an entertaining viewers guide to things to watch for during this year’s 24/7 check out this viewer’s guide.

Rumor: Trading For Stastny or Spezza Rangers Plan B If No Richards; Is Either The Answer?

Free agency is just 10 days away and the stories that surround the New York Rangers all revolve around Brad Richards and the chase to lure him to Broadway.  Stories either revolve around what it will take to bring Richards to New York or what the alternatives are if he goes elsewhere.  Today’s story revolves around the alternatives as according to Steve Zipay at Newsday, people familiar with the Richards situation say that the Rangers will turn to trading for Paul Stastny or Jason Spezza if they fail to secure the former Dallas Star.
The Rangers also could try to deal for a center (Ottawa's Jason Spezza or Colorado's Paul Stastny) if they believe they will be outbid by Los Angeles for top unrestricted free-agent target Brad Richards, people familiar with the issue said.

Does Rising Salary Cap Floor Make Wade Redden Trade Possible?

With yesterday’s reporting that the NHL salary cap for the 2011-12 season could rise to $64 million dollars much of the focus was on what it means to the Rangers immediate cap space to keep their restricted free agents and chase Brad Richards this summer.  The most intriguing thing about the cap announcement might be the increase in the cap floor to $48 million from the previous $43.4 million during the 2010-11 season. 

The reason that the rise in the cap floor is so interesting as there are a few teams out there that have tremendous amounts of cap room and not a lot of guys to sign that will make big dollars.  Various teams fit into this kind of situation, but two of the most obvious are the Florida Panthers who have hardly any payroll committed for next season, $18.3 million, and the New York Islanders who have payroll checking in at $36.8 million but have already 17 players under contract.

Both of these teams will add salary when they bring up high draft picks who have high incentives on their entry level deals.  Beyond that however neither team is known for attracting free agents to their club because of bad teams and ownership that has been unwilling to spend more than what is absolutely necessary.  The options on the table for them would be to overpay free agents so they can reach the salary cap floor, which they can afford, or become a de facto clearing house for bad contracts that other teams are looking to unload. 

Those factors lead to thoughts that were unthinkable in that the Rangers might have a way to rid themselves of Wade Redden by trading him to one of these teams that needs to add to their cap figures.  The Rangers obviously would get nothing of value in return for Redden and might have to sweeten the pot with a pick or prospect to get another team to take on the salary.  As maligned as Redden was for his play with the Rangers during his first two seasons on Broadway, he would still be an NHL defender if his salary were half of the $6.5 million he makes. 

With the work that Redden did in Hartford mentoring the Rangers defensive prospects, a young team in search of some leadership and teaching skills could have interest in dealing for him to help their young players as well as hit the cap floor.  If you are a rebuilding team like Florida who can obtain more assets to the rebuild (pick(s), prospect) and the veteran leadership to mentor the young players just for taking his salary to get in compliance with the floor of the cap, you might just do it.

Yes, it is still crazy to think Wade Redden could actually get dealt, but the financial requirements for teams to have payroll at $48 million makes the idea a little less impossible to believe.  Rangers’ General Manager Glen Sather has worked his trade magic before, which only adds to the hope that he could do it again with Redden.  Players like Mike Komisarek or Brian Campbell would be more likely to fit the bill of overpaid player to pump the cap floor that can contribute to more on the ice than Redden can, but more than since the day he signed the six-year, $39 million deal with the Rangers there is hope that the rising cap floor could force someone to take him on.