When NHL officials approached the Philadelphia Flyers about appearing on their latest behind-the-scenes show, they faced almost no resistance.
“There weren’t many reservations,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said. “There really aren’t any negatives as far as I’m concerned.”
The Flyers will be featured on NHL Network’s second season of “Behind the Glass” that gives a peek behind the curtain to training camp, exhibition games and the regular-season opener in Europe. In previous decades or even years, it might’ve been hard to persuade a prominent hockey team to open its doors to all the cameras, but it’s becoming far more acceptable in a sport typically predicated on secrecy.
“I can see maybe people who haven’t done it before maybe being hesitant about it,” said New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero, whose team was the subject of the show last season. “You’re not exactly going to sit down to tell state secrets, but at the same time there’s going to be some open dialogue and I think that’s really good.”
HBO’s two iterations of “Road to the Winter Classic” may have more closely matched “Hard Knocks,” which shows viewers an uncensored version of an NFL training camp. The Washington Capitals’ eight-game losing streak in late 2010 became a prominent part of the first show.
NHL chief content officer and executive Vice President Steve Mayer pointed out that hockey preseason is different from football, where players are outright released if they don’t make the team. Cameras last year tracked Devils personnel grading players after games and deciding on final roster spots, and that same access will be available inside the Flyers’ conference rooms.
“I don’t know if I’d want this in the first round, in a playoff series or something like that, but training camp, it’s positive,” Fletcher said. “That time of the year, there’s not a lot of criticism. Some players obviously perform better than others. But the play kind of dictates what decisions you make anyway.”
Shero recalls Matt Cooke being upset in 2010 when HBO showed Pittsburgh coaches grading his game performance a 2 on a scale of 1-5 but said he got over it. Shero’s biggest concern on “Behind the Glass” was making sure comments about opposing teams and players didn’t make it on the air.
Fletcher was a Devils adviser a year ago, which led to his support of letting NHL Network in for new coach Alain Vigneault’s first Flyers camp.
“They’re not going to show your systems and show things that might be sensitive,” Fletcher said. “It ends up being more of the personal interactions and showcasing the players on the bubble trying to make the team and showcasing a couple of the star players and how they get ready and showing the coach speaking to the team. I think they do a very good job of showing real, legitimate, behind-the-scenes material.”
Mayer said the meeting with Flyers business and hockey operations executives went so well that details of the show were being discussed even before final approval was given. The NHL doesn’t want to mandate teams taking part in shows like this in large part because Mayer believes willing participants will be less afraid to go about their normal days.
While there are still some old-school people who don’t understand the benefits of letting the cameras in, that crowd is shrinking.
“I definitely see the seismic shift over to ‘We want to do these,’” Mayer said. ”(There are) more people in the hockey world, the hockey ops world, who do believe there’s a benefit to these shows, that think we treat the players, the organizations with complete respect.”
A year after Gritty the mascot took pop culture by storm, the decision to shine the spotlight on Fletcher, Vigneault and a team with stars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and possible goalie of the future Carter Hart was a no-brainer on the Flyers’ marketing side. They’ve alternated making and missing the playoffs the past seven seasons and haven’t won the Stanley Cup since going back to back in 1974 and 1975.
Opening the season against the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague is also another chance to show the organization to a bigger audience.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Flyers President of business operations Valerie Camillo said. “We thought it would be a great way for our fans to know the team, the personalities of the team.”