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Dowbiggin asks an astute question: is HBO’s Red Wings-Maple Leafs 24/7 a saving grace?

Amongst the many, many, many columns I've been reading regarding the impending lockout this morning, there's bluster (if you really want to read Ken Dryden being Ken Dryden, go ahead, but yoy...) and there's fluff, reiterating of quotes and genuine prose, and then there's something both Red Wings-related and quite thoughtful from the Globe and Mail's Bruce Dowbiggin.

With NBC broadcast money in the bank thanks to Ed Snider and other TV and online committments likely to float the owners a substantial, "We're not playing hockey games but we're still making money" bone, Dowbiggin wonders aloud whether the Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, and the HBO 24/7 series which precedes it, might be the one "pressure point" upon which the owners might feel a teensy, weensy bit of pressure to hammer out a deal, lest two of their marquee franchises lose a crapton of money (and the league loses those 110,000 seats' worth of $, sponsortship money, etc.):

[T]he real pressure point in this argument comes much earlier, around the U.S. Thanksgiving Day holiday, which falls on Nov. 22. That’s typically when HBO cameras are gearing up for anther season of the critically acclaimed documentary series 24/7 . This year, HBO will follow the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs as they prepare for the Jan. 1 contest. To say it is hotly anticipated is like saying the Leafs are struggling a tad to win a Stanley Cup.

The format is a four-week tease leading into the Winter Classic that creates story lines and introduces personalities (tell us you’re not looking forward to Toronto president and general manager Brian Burke chewing on the scenery). When the game rolls out, viewers are onside with the characters.

I'm not looking forward to one second of Brian Burke doing anything. Mike Babcock, on the other hand...And nevertheless...

To produce four weeks of documentary footage for 24/7 , training camps would have to be opened around the end of November – just after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. It’s conceivable that HBO might settle for three episodes, but any less than that would ruin the format. Plus, NBC and the University of Michigan are highly unlikely to move back the Winter Classic date.

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the HBO series to the league’s profile in the United States and to the NHL’s head office located in New York. For a league that has unerringly chosen the wrong broadcast strategies in the past, the HBO series has been a redemption for the NHL’s marketing and broadcast wings. 24/7 put the league’s names, faces and back stories before the U.S. sporting public in a way it had never done before.

The NHL craves the respect its sister sports leagues receive the way U.S. President Barack Obama craves a smoke halfway through a lengthy press conference. To punt the HBO series and the Winter Classic over a squabble over money, not principle, would be seen as yet another banana the NHL chose to put in its own way.

Having said that, experience tells us that when the NHL owners hunker down, not much light gets into the inner sanctum. Failure of imagination is their calling card. The players, less insulated from reality, get feedback during a lockout. But they, too, can lose sight of the forest for the trees. If the NHL lockout actually begins on Saturday at midnight with Bettman’s stage tears coursing down his face for hockey fans, you can put away the Racing Form.

They’ll be in uncharted territory where no TV network can find them.

Dowbiggin continues, of course, but that's the thrust of an excellent column...

And as much as I hate being a "journalist" person, I can put on that hat and suggest that a Maple Leafs team looking to finally deliver on Burke's extremely high-pedigreed expectations playing against a Red Wings team trying to move on minus Nicklas Lidstrom is a motherf***ing compelling "story."

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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.


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