The much-anticipated debut of HBO’s 24/7: Road to the Winter Classic arrived Saturday, and reviews of the first episode were … lukewarm, at best. The consensus was that the Maple Leafs were only modestly entertaining, and the Red Wings were downright dull.
That’s a disappointing reception for a show that usually does a great job of making the NHL seem fascinating. Then again, the producers can only work with what they have, and for one week at least they didn’t seem to have much.
It was only one episode, of course, and maybe the second will be better. Hockey fans had better hope that these two teams can loosen up a bit, because we’re stuck with them. After all, it’s not like we can go to the bullpen for a replacement.
But what if we could? What if the two spots on 24/7 weren’t automatically given to whoever was playing in the Winter Classic, but instead went to the most entertaining teams, both on and off the ice, of a given moment?
That sounds like the sort of question that calls for an in-depth ranking. So let’s give this a shot. Here are all 30 teams, ranked based on how interesting they’d be if we swapped them into 24/7 right now.
30. Columbus Blue Jackets
What would work: Do you like stories about plucky underdogs, scorned and mocked by everyone only to emerge triumphant at the end?
What wouldn’t work: What if we told you we couldn’t swing the whole “emerge triumphant at the end” bit? Still interested? Wait, come back …
Breakout star: Sergei Bobrovsky has a nice little character arc going — run out of Philadelphia, finds redemption in Columbus, wins the Vezina, then falters under the increased expectations. Plus, he backed up 24/7 legend Ilya Bryzgalov for a year, so maybe he picked up a few tips.
Dominant story line: A terrible team struggles to stay near the .500 mark but still somehow remains in the playoff race. We’ll just call this one “the Metro” for short.
29. Florida Panthers
What would work: They’re a rebuilding team that has been improving under a new coach.
What wouldn’t work: Let’s face it, the Panthers are a bad team playing in a lousy market, and their roster isn’t exactly packed with household names. On a show like 24/7, they’d probably be a disaster. If only they had some sort of wacky veteran around to make things bearable …
Breakout star: Oh, hello there, Tim Thomas! Hey, remember when you used to speak your mind freely, and then everyone yelled at you so you stopped doing that? We’d like you to start again.
Dominant story line: After the first few minutes of the debut episode, you set up one of these in front of your television set.
28. Detroit Red Wings
What would work: They already have experience with 24/7, since they’re on this year’s show.
What wouldn’t work: Five minutes after last week’s episode ended, nobody could remember a single scene involving a Red Wing.
Breakout star: Based on what we’ve seen so far, the winner by default is Jimmy Howard doing whatever it is this is supposed to be. Wait, he’s hurt now? Um, pass.
Dominant story line: After an especially bad game, coach Mike Babcock skips the bag skate and instead punishes the team by making them break down tape of their own episode.
27. Nashville Predators
What would work: Seth Jones and Shea Weber.
What wouldn’t work: Anything that wasn’t Seth Jones and Shea Weber. Sorry, Predators fans. There’s a foundation being built for something, but right now, there’s just not a lot that the rest of the league’s viewers want to see.
Breakout star: Jones would probably steal the show, though don’t count out tough guy Rich Clune. At least based on his Twitter account, he’s a bit of an interesting dude.
Dominant story line: Weber keeps asking HBO crews about whether they worked on the Philadelphia series a few years ago, and whether they ever wish they were there instead of Nashville.
26. Winnipeg Jets
What would work: Jets fans are awesome, and would probably make sure HBO knew it was in a die-hard hockey town. The team has a handful of quasi-interesting guys who could provide a decent episode or two. We’d get to see Dustin Byfuglien go out to eat on the road, which you could spin off into a pretty solid series of its own.
What wouldn’t work: The team itself is kind of dull, and even when something fun does happen to them, management ruins it.
Dominant story line: Bored producers resort to trying to goad Olli Jokinen into a fight, just to see if they can get him to make that face again.
25. Phoenix Coyotes
What would work: They Coyotes are a decent team, and their games usually feature a lot of offense at both ends. Even their goalies can score. The roster’s not exactly star-packed, but it has some interesting characters, like Shane Doan and Mike Ribeiro.
What wouldn’t work: They don’t get much media attention around the league, so producers who’d have to build up familiarity within the audience would have their work cut out for them.
Breakout star: I know, you’re expecting me to say Paul Bissonnette because of his Twitter account. But have you ever known someone who spends a lot of time on social media and was actually interesting in real life? [Looks sadly into mirror.] I sure haven’t.
Dominant story line: The franchise might be on the verge of moving! Sorry, NHL bylaws dictate that that’s always the dominant story line for the Phoenix Coyotes, even when it’s not true.
24. Carolina Hurricanes
What would work: The Staal brothers would be fun. Cam Ward has some personality. Jeff Skinner’s figure skating backstory is pretty cool.
What wouldn’t work: Uncensored cameras + Jiri Tlusty = uh-oh.
Breakout star: Alexander Semin. Enigmatic Russian alert!
Dominant story line: Kirk Muller, a first-time NHL coach on the hot seat, tries to keep smiling while holding on to his job. He succeeds, since he’s been smiling nonstop since 1993.
23. New Jersey Devils
What would work: The Devils are a weird mix of young players and old guys on the downside of their careers, which could make for some captivating TV. The Martin Brodeur vs. Cory Schneider goalie platoon could be interesting, especially since Schneider’s been opening up about his frustrations recently. And of course there’s always Jaromir Jagr, who’s been down this road before.
What wouldn’t work: The Devils aren’t all that good right now. Plus, they’re still the New Jersey Devils, so your brain will tell you they’re boring even when they’re really not.
Breakout star: You could pick any number of players, but my money’s on GM Lou Lamoriello. Hey, anyone who can bully Brian Burke is going to be worth some camera time.
Dominant story line: The goalie battle, including a touching scene of a tearful Schneider watching old YouTube clips of his high jinks with Roberto Luongo while listening to the Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over.”
22. Ottawa Senators
What would work: High-def, slow-motion shots of Erik Karlsson’s skating. Also, high-def, slow-motion shots of Erik Karlsson’s wardrobe.
What wouldn’t work: They were a sneaky preseason Cup pick but have struggled so far, and they’ve played some downright uninspiring hockey at times.
Breakout star: Owner Eugene “Forensics” Melnyk, right up until a PR person tackles him and drags him away.
Dominant story line: Everyone just constantly tries to get Jason Spezza to laugh on camera.
21. Tampa Bay Lightning
What would work: They’re a surprisingly good team with decent young talent. Goalie Ben Bishop is a nice story. And if the players get boring, GM Steve Yzerman is always around.
What wouldn’t work: Have you ever met a die-hard Tampa Bay Lightning fan? Me neither.
Breakout star: They could probably make a star out of veteran Martin St. Louis and his freakish legs.
Dominant story line: Steven Stamkos desperately trying to rehab his broken leg in time for the Olympics would make for great drama.
20. New York Islanders
What would work: New York is a young team that was expected to do well, and is instead crashing and burning right in front of our eyes, which makes for some good drama. And these days, there’s even a solid chance you’d get the first-ever 24/7 coach firing.
What wouldn’t work: The HBO producers seem to really like showing slow-motion footage of teams’ goalies making saves, and, well …
Breakout star: I should go with someone like John Tavares here, but let’s face it: It would be Charles Wang.
Dominant story line: Thomas Vanek constantly answering his cell phone by yelling “I waive! I waive!”
19. New York Rangers
What would work: They’re the Rangers, so there are plenty of big-name stars. Henrik Lundqvist was pretty much made for this sort of thing, and coach Alain Vigneault seems like he could be a lot of fun on this type of show. Plus their stumbling playoff chase would make each game feel important.
What wouldn’t work: They were featured in the 2011 series, so it could feel like something we’ve seen before.
Breakout star: Probably Rick Nash by default, since he’s one of the few stars who wasn’t on the roster in 2011. Can Rick Nash be interesting? I feel like we’re on shaky ground here.
Dominant story line: We all just ignore the standings and pretend like the Rangers are a top Stanley Cup contender. (No, wait, I’m sorry, that’s the story line for this year’s NBC broadcasts …)
18. Dallas Stars
What would work: It’s a young team in the first year of a rebuild under a new coach and GM. There’s some decent talent like emerging star Jamie Benn, and Sergei Gonchar could fill the “cagey veteran” role.
What wouldn’t work: They’re a middle-of-the-pack team, so making them seem relevant could be tricky.
Breakout star: Easy call here: 21-year-old Tyler Seguin, the team’s best player and an emerging superstar who was run out of Boston due to off-ice concerns. Come on, you’d tune in just to see the current state of his apartment.
Dominant story line: HBO producers keep trying to show highlights of the team’s 1999 Stanley Cup win, only to be interrupted by angry tirades from coach Lindy Ruff.
17. Buffalo Sabres
What would work: This is an absolutely terrible team that has spent most of the season firing people, taking suspensions, and generally embarrassing itself. That’s bad news if you’re a fan, but great news if you’re a producer looking for compelling TV.
What wouldn’t work: You know how 24/7 loves to features those gorgeous high-def shots of each city? Um, about that …
Breakout star: Ted Nolan. He has always been one of the game’s most fascinating characters, though he may want you to keep his segments nice and short.
Dominant story line: Depending on the level of access the cameras were given, Pat LaFontaine’s ongoing search for a new GM could make for great viewing.
16. St. Louis Blues
What would work: They’re an excellent team with a stacked roster. Alex Steen is this year’s most surprising star, Alex Pietrangelo is already a stud blueliner, Vladimir Tarasenko is an exciting young forward … the list goes on. I know you expect them to be boring because they almost always are, but this year’s edition has the potential to be the most enjoyable Blues team ever.
What wouldn’t work: “Most enjoyable Blues team ever” is still only middle-of-the-pack enjoyable.
Breakout star: It’s an Olympic year, so even if he’s hurt it still has to be American hero David “Inglourious” Backes, right?
Dominant story line: HBO would probably just keep showing that famous Bobby Orr goal in super-slow motion since they like to torture fans by reliving old games against the Bruins, RIGHT, JERKFACES?
15. Chicago Blackhawks
What would work: Great team, big market, lots of recognizable stars, and even a few guys who’d be comfortable in front of a camera. Hello, ladies.
What wouldn’t work: Jonathan Toews isn’t called Captain Serious ironically. He’s the team’s best player, but it’s hard to think that HBO could do much with this level of personal magnetism.
Breakout star: Patrick Kane. He seems like fun.
Dominant story line: I guess you’d have to go with the whole “defending champs who everyone wants to take a run at” plot. That could be fun for an episode or two, though it might get dull over a whole season.
14. Vancouver Canucks
What would work: There’s plenty to work with. They’re a good team, and they have guys like Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler, who seem to enjoy being on camera. Also, they have coach John Tortorella, who does not.
What wouldn’t work: The Sedin thing would be weird, wouldn’t it? I feel like it could be weird.
Breakout star: Roberto Luongo seems like an easy call here.
Dominant story line: Several cameramen think it would be a neat idea to follow David Booth on a hunting trip. They’re never seen again.
13. Minnesota Wild
What would work: The Wild are an emerging powerhouse, playing in one of the best hockey cities in North America. And the roster has its share of big names like Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu, and Zach Parise.
What wouldn’t work: A generation of YouTube-savvy fans is devastated to learn that Dany Heatley doesn’t really talk like that. Most of the time.
Breakout star: Josh Harding, one of the league’s top goalies despite his ongoing battle with MS, would be a natural.
Dominant story line: Producers spend four weeks trying to get one good shot of Suter going to the bench before eventually giving up.
12. Pittsburgh Penguins
What would work: They’re the Penguins, which is to say that they’re one of the most hyped teams in the league. They’re in first place, they have plenty of star power, and they have Sidney Crosby.
What wouldn’t work: Come to think of it, the last time Crosby was on 24/7 it didn’t end so well …
Breakout star: What about Sidney Crosby? Should we focus on Sidney Crosby? Yeah, let’s do more Sidney Crosby. (This is me applying for a job in the NHL’s marketing department.)
Dominant story line: Literally every player on the team gets injured and/or suspended. There, that takes care of Episode 1.
11. Montreal Canadiens
What would work: HBO loves to play up history and tradition, and no team serves that up better than Montreal. But the present looks pretty good, too, with the Canadiens making a push for first place in the Eastern Conference.
What wouldn’t work: They’re a team that surpasses expectations by getting a strong effort from the entire roster, which is a nice way of saying that there’s not quite as much star power as some other teams could offer.
Breakout star: P.K. Subban would be so good he’d probably be given his own HBO talk show by the end of the third episode.
Dominant story line: Carey Price, Canadian national hero (pre-Olympics), and/or Carey Price, disgraced Canadian traitor (after giving up one goal in the Olympics).
10. Toronto Maple Leafs
What would work: Since the Leafs are the other team that’s featured this season, we don’t really have to guess: It’s going to be a whole lot of Joffrey Lupul’s groin, Dion Phaneuf’s bow ties, and lots of adorable kids. OK, it’s not much, but the team’s current tailspin should make things interesting in future episodes. And hey, at least they’re not the Red Wings.
What wouldn’t work: Randy Carlyle’s toaster, apparently.
Breakout star: If the first episode is any indication, the producers want it to be Lupul. But the people still want it to be Phil Kessel. Who’s with me? KES-SEL! KES-SEL! KES-SEL! [Realizes he's the only one chanting.] Yeah, it’s going to be Lupul.
Dominant story line: The final episode in early January ends with a dramatic scene of the entire team taking in an inspiring and emotional locker room speech delivered by the head coach, whoever that happens to be by the time the Leafs have dropped to 13th place in the East.
9. Washington Capitals
What would work: The Caps are a fun group, led by arguably the most exciting player in hockey in Alexander Ovechkin. There’s a good mix of star players and young up-and-comers. And former star turned coach Adam Oates seems like he’d be an interesting guy to focus on.
What wouldn’t work: They were already on the show, three years ago. That was a fun season, so we won’t really hold it against them, but tragically, there has probably been enough time for Mike Green to have ditched that Vespa.
Breakout star: Assuming we want to go with someone who wasn’t on last time, it’s an easy call: Mikhail Grabovski, the certifiably crazy former Leaf who’d probably bite somebody or go on an expletive-filled rant or stab a pineapple.
Dominant story line: I’d be hoping for anything involving Braden Holtby’s parents.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
What would work: It’s never dull in Philadelphia, and this year has been no exception. Like the Rangers, the Flyers were already on in 2011 but have since undergone some notable changes that would keep things fresh.
What wouldn’t work: One of those changes was the loss of Ilya Bryzgalov. Sorry, Steve Mason, some voids just can’t be filled.
Breakout star: My money’s on rookie coach (and former legendary enforcer) Craig Berube, unless Ray Emery decides that he really wants the role. Nobody turns down Ray Emery.
Dominant story line: Mason works on negotiating a long-term contract extension, while Ed Snider says, “We never learn from our mistakes.” Oh, wait, that already happened.
7. San Jose Sharks
What would work: They’re one of the best teams in the league, and you could build up a nice little “aging team tries to finally win a championship before the window slams shut” narrative. They have old stars like Patrick Marleau and young ones like Logan Couture. And HBO is the only network that could get away with showing a Joe Thornton four-goal game.
What wouldn’t work: The show always runs in December and January, and I think we’re all kind of tired of the Sharks as a regular-season story. A deep playoff run? That’s interesting. Another December win streak? We’ve seen it.
Breakout star: Come on.
Dominant story line: His teammates play the ultimate prank on Marc-Édouard Vlasic by leaking an obviously fake story that he’s being considered for the Canadian Olympic team. They did that, right? Please tell me that’s where those stories are coming from.
6. Boston Bruins
What would work: They’re one of the best teams in the league, and have tons of noteworthy players and story lines. From Jarome Iginla’s Cup quest to Tuukka Rask’s meltdowns to the Shawn Thornton situation to Milan Lucic’s homecomings, just about everyone on this team has the potential to be interesting.
What wouldn’t work: At some point, Brad Marchand’s face would appear on your brand-new television, and you’d have to explain to the guy at the returns counter how a fist-size hole was already there when you unboxed it.
Dominant story line: Whatever Zdeno Chara damn well says it is.
5. Calgary Flames
What would work: Brian Burke. The end.
What wouldn’t work: Probably literally everything else, but who cares? Brian Burke!
Breakout star: OK, sure, technically we can’t call someone who has been in the spotlight as long as Burke a “breakout” star, so I guess we’ll have to go with somebody from the roster, like … [scrolls] … [scrolls] … [scrolls] … you know what, let’s just go with Brian Burke.
Dominant story line: “Brian Burke goes to the grocery store and buys some oatmeal.” Seriously, I’d TiVo that and watch it every day for a month. I can’t believe the Leafs fired him before he could be on this year’s show.
4. Los Angeles Kings
What would work: They’re an excellent team in a sexy market, and have a roster full of personable young players like Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Drew Doughty. Also, their coach is the absolute greatest.
What wouldn’t work: Because they’re so good defensively, they’re not always the most exciting team to watch.
Breakout star: Ben Scrivens, the Ivy League career backup who had to take over for an injured Jonathan Quick and has responded with a career year. Plus, he and his wife are real party animals.
Dominant story line: Since 24/7 is always about an outdoor game, it would probably be about how all the ice would just melt if the NHL ever tried to have one in Los Angeles, ha ha ha wait what?
3. Anaheim Ducks
What would work: They’re a top team with plenty of star power, and they already have 24/7 superstar Bruce Boudreau as coach. The “beloved Finnish superstar playing out the final year of his career” story line with Teemu Selanne would be gold.
What wouldn’t work: The “beloved Finnish superstar playing out the final year of his career” story line with Saku Koivu would probably feel a little bit repetitive.
Dominant story line: This season, it would probably be all Selanne, all the time. This is not a complaint.
2. Colorado Avalanche
What would work: They’re a young team that has been one of the league’s most unexpected success stories over the first half. Also, have you met this team’s coach? You should really meet this team’s coach.
What wouldn’t work: Sure, following executive vice-president of hockey ops Joe Sakic around all day sounds like it would be fun, but he probably just spends most of his time politely declining Peter Forsberg comeback offers.
Breakout star: Any of the younger guys could step into this role, but let’s go with team captain Gabriel Landeskog, who has somehow become a grizzled NHL veteran at the age of 21. And if that didn’t work, did we mention that the coach is Patrick Roy? Just put the camera on him for a full hour every week and enjoy the record ratings.
Dominant story line: Have they plunged back to earth like all the smart people said they would? How about now? Now? How about now? [Season ends.] Dammit.
1. Edmonton Oilers
What would work: They’re a young, exciting team that came into the season with high expectations but have struggled badly. Their rookie coach has some interesting approaches and is usually a good quote. They seem to always have some sort of wacky trade rumor subplot going. Their fans are great. Ryan Smyth probably walks around in a bathrobe swearing at all the dangnabbed kids. The players have experience with this sort of show, since they already have their own (which nobody I know has ever watched, but still). Oh, and they just signed this guy. They’d be perfect. Make this happen, NHL.
What wouldn’t work: Those scenes of Dallas Eakins running a triathlon after a game would probably get a little boring the sixth or seventh time.
Breakout star: Nail Yakupov would be pretty much guaranteed to do something that would make Don Cherry’s head explode.
Dominant story line: Losses. Come on, it’s still the Oilers.