To hockey fans, New Year's Day felt a little incomplete. For the first time since 2008, there was no Winter Classic. The most recent lockout saw a temporary cancellation to one of hockey's biggest attractions, one that now dominates sports on New Year's Day.
And with the Winter Classic comes HBO's 24/7 documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the two teams playing in the Winter Classic five weeks before the actual game. The series debuted for the Penguins/Capitals Winter Classic, and continued for the Flyers/Rangers tilt. It became an instant hit, showing a behind-the-scenes look to games fans watched not even a week earlier. The finale culminates with the Winter Classic, and lets fans relive the game from a different viewpoint.
So with the lockout, not only is there no Winter Classic, but there is no 24/7 series. But, just for this year, there could be an alternative series. These are the three alternatives that I believe could be just as exciting as the Road to the Winter Classic is, and maybe even better.
This would be the easiest transition for HBO. They were already planning on sending people to film these two clubs, and both clubs were planning on having them. For the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, the only thing that really changes is the timing of the filming, and that there won't be a single game in the finale.
While it may be the easiest, it may not be the best decision to make. One reason is that these teams will never play each other in a shortened season because they're in different conferences. So the show will basically just be tracking the final month of the season, never culminating in a winner-take-all game between the two clubs.
The second reason this may not be a good idea is because if trends continue, Detroit will comfortably be in a playoff seat, while Toronto won't be able to make a playoff push. To the fans, it may not matter, because the show is so unique. But it takes away drama from the show. And with the lack of a big game pitting the two teams together, drama will already be hard to come by.
All in all, hockey fans would still love to see how these two Original Six teams are run because of how storied each franchise is. But there are more attractive offers on the table.
This option would be the most in-depth one for HBO to choose, which means it would be the most expensive but also longer running than the Road to the Winter Classic.
By following a team throughout the entire season, viewers would get to know that single team completely. So more than likely, a large-market team would be chosen, or an up-and-coming team that could have a very good story for HBO to use. However, there are some major setbacks as well.
The problem with choosing only one team to focus on is that you get 29 other fan bases mad because they weren't chosen. Plus, one conference will never appear on the show because of the lack of inter-conference games. The team that HBO isn't following won't be upset, but New York or Los Angeles is guaranteed not to make an appearance on 24/7, and the revenue from those big markets could be upsetting.
HBO probably wouldn't like spending more money than normal for a league that cancelled one of their best 24/7 series for a year. This option would be very cool, but probably won't come into being.
This could be the best option for HBO, if they choose to even have a hockey 24/7 series this season. It has every major element that the Road to the Winter Classic does, the only difference is that the big game isn't outdoors.
A major rivalry game would pit two teams together as they countdown to the big game against each other. Knowing the NHL, the last game of the season could be a batch of rivalry games, which would give HBO a better time frame to work with and one that both clubs would be comfortable doing. Plus, depending on the state of each team, they could both be fighting for a division title or playoff spot, which would be huge drama for HBO to play off of.
But there still are some downsides. Clubs may not be so keen on letting cameras into the locker room while they are trying to push for a playoff spot, and they may not want the players getting distracted right before the playoffs. The other is the NHL is too unreliable, and may not even have a rivalry game at the end of the season. With HBO waiting for a new CBA and then a new schedule, they may not even be able to make the series work in the time frame.
This would be a great substitute for the Road to the Winter Classic, but there are a few roadblocks HBO would have to get over in order for it to work.
This would be the most exciting series to watch as a fan. The drama of the Stanley Cup Finals is second-to-none, and having a behind-the-scenes look into the Stanley Cup playoffs would be unbelievable.
This would be a hit for not only the diehard hockey fans but also for the casual fans. There may only be four teams competing for the Cup when HBO would start filming, but that's two more teams than are in the Winter Classic. Shooting time would be around the same, so HBO wouldn't be following these teams for an extended period of time.
If HBO covered just the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals, they would have plenty of time to advertise and hype up the series too.
There are still some drawbacks though. HBO may not have the capability of covering four teams instead of two. It would be a shame, but they have to do what's realistic for them. The other major question is if the franchises that are in this stage of the playoffs will want their team being covered. There is too much at stake, and having the chance that a major strategy is leaked via the show could be devastating to a club's chances to win a cup. Not to mention the added stress that the cameras could bring to the coach and players.
Overall, as a hockey fan, I would love to see an in-depth view of the Stanley Cup-winning team from the conference finals through their victory parade, especially if it were my team winning the cup. But if I was an owner, I would have a very hard time saying yes because of the negatives that having cameras in meetings and locker rooms could bring.