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JONES: Get ready for hub hockey overload

Connor McDavid (97) warms up prior to an Edmonton Oilers training camp scrimmage in Edmonton on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.
Connor McDavid (97) warms up prior to an Edmonton Oilers training camp scrimmage in Edmonton on Wednesday, July 22, 2020.

The stunning staging setup the NHL has created and revealed for the presentation of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs in advance of Sunday’s opening of Hub City has an opportunity to be as much of an attraction as the action.

If the NHL and NHL Players Association can keep the COVID-19 pandemic positive test numbers down, as they have so far, and keep the players healthy and happy, as appears will be the case in Edmonton and Toronto, hockey has a serious shot at upstaging all the leagues and their return to play projects.

The eye-popping set that stretches from one end of the arena to the other behind the players benches and the accompanying game presentation should be the talk of fans from throughout the sports world.

First impressions, in a word: ‘WOW!’

But will it be followed by a ‘WHOA?’

If there’s a worry, it’s that it could all be too much.

The massive staging sets are in place for the televised exhibition games early this week, but viewers won’t get to experience the total effect until all the bells and whistles are engaged on Aug. 1. That will be the start of the playoffs on Hockey Night In Canada, featuring the openers of the Edmonton-Chicago and Winnipeg-Calgary games, and special appearances by Michael Buble.

When that happens, will it be too overwhelming on the game presentation side for most Canadians to handle?

Will it be a three-ring circus to fans who have been raised to believe the Stanley Cup playoffs themselves are the show, the whole show and nothing but the show?

Will using 32 cameras instead of 20, many of them located where fans normally sit, be too much?

Will using game sounds provided by EA Sports be too much?

Will goal horn sounds from all 24 playoff team arenas to be used for their ‘home’ games be too much?

Will chants produced using fans from around the league be too much?

Maybe. But a lot of people who don’t religiously watch hockey at any time are quite likely going to dial in on Aug. 1 to find out.

NHL chief content officer Steve Mayer, who rolled it all out, first to the players via video and then in Zoom media events Friday, explained he’s hoping the NHL will draw a much wider audience than a normal playoff year by making it an once-in-a-lifetime happening.

“We hope that what we do will prove to be something memorable, something that really sticks out, something that our fans will really enjoy,” he said.

But Mayer swears his substantial sideshow won’t take away from the show itself.

“The Stanley Cup is the show,” said Mayer. “When the puck is dropped, you’re going to see what is the greatest game in the world being played and the teams competing for the Stanley Cup. That’s what it’s all about.

“All we’re doing is creating an environment that we feel will be visually exciting. We’re not going to take away from the game.

“You’ll notice that a lot of our LED screens and graphic design is a long way away from the ice. Our No. 1 concern is that game and how it’s presented on television.

“What we’re hoping to do is between whistles, to entertain. Before the game begins and during intermissions some of the things you’ll see on the screens will be statistical based, informational based. But it’ll all be about the hockey.

“The way we look at it is that we will be setting a wonderful scene for what will be the greatest championship run in all of sports.”

Commissioner Gary Bettman, who was part of Friday’s Zoom video Edmonton Hub City media event along with Premier Jason Kenney, Mayor Don Iveson and Oilers Entertainment Group executives, said the idea is to create something special out of a challenging situation.

“One of the things we pride ourselves on as a game and as a league is the authenticity and the history and the tradition. That’s why Steve and his people have reached out to get their crowd chants, to get their goal horn sounds and incorporate all the traditional things the teams do in their buildings into a neutral site bearing.

“Keep in mind that having no fans in the building isn’t something anybody is used to. To simply say we’re just going to leave the stands empty and play the game, I don’t think that’s fair to our fans, I don’t think that’s fair to our players and it doesn’t set the right scene.

“We’re taking an extraordinarily unique situation, make the best of it and make it something everybody can have fun with because entertaining, having fun and having a great competition is what it’s all about.”

For an entire week, the Edmonton Oilers have been required to practice at the community arena while the massive staging structure was being assembled.

“Instead of cardboard cutouts or putting teddy bears in the stands, we wanted to focus on the TV experience with a commitment to entertain them and to visually excite them in addition to presenting Stanley Cup playoff hockey,” said Mayer.


On Twitter: @ByTerryJones

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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