Many of the lighthearted social-media clips, funny reaction GIFs and national-TV interviews that NHL fans will see throughout the 2019-20 season have already been filmed.
The league’s biggest annual content creation period took place during the 2019 NHL Media Tour on Thursday and Friday in Chicago. About 40 of the top players around the NHL — including Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat of the Blackhawks — bustled from photo shoots to panel interviews to video-game sessions.
“We have some of our biggest stars here, they’re accessible to the media, and what this does is give the media an opportunity to load up on content, which they don’t have to use all at once,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. “And, as important, it gives the players an opportunity to get a lot of the media interaction out of the way, in terms of the long-term stories that’ll resonate throughout the season.”
DeBrincat, the young winger about to begin his third season with the Hawks, spent his morning shattering ice planks and boxes filled with pingpong balls in a dramatically lit Johnny’s IceHouse. Later, he was whisked from one room to another at the Magnificent Mile Marriott in breakneck 15-minute shifts. He handled a trash-talking Paul Bissonnette in a quick “NHL 20” video-game battle, then gamely completed a bracket of his favorite sports movies. But some of the off-the-board questions in recorded interview sessions stumped him.
“I like the questions — I just don’t necessarily know the answer, and a lot of them I’ve never thought about in my life before, so it’s hard to think of something on the spot,” DeBrincat said. “A lot of times when I’m caught in that, I can’t think of anything.”
Fans may not see or hear of the content DeBrincat and others filmed, however, for months.
The questions and answers intentionally had no time constrictions, meant to bring out players’ personalities. But fans may not see or hear the content DeBrincat and others filmed for months. The NHL Players Association, NBC Sports or NHL Network could air portions of the interviews anywhere from October into next spring.
“There’s so much content that’s captured here, it really does provide enough material to get you to the playoffs, and sometimes through the playoffs,” said Jamey Horan, the NHL’s vice president of communications. “Obviously, there’s other interviews that have to take place during the playoffs, but I saw stuff during the Stanley Cup Finals on our national rights-holders that was shot in September, in terms of the promotional stuff, the on-ice stuff.”
Chicago first hosted the Media Tour last season. For the nine years before that, it was in either New York or Toronto.
The NHL was drawn by Chicago’s central location — it’s a significantly shorter flight for West Coast stars — as well as the short distance between the two rinks used (Johnny’s and Fifth Third Arena) and the downtown. The league also hoped that moving the tour to Chicago would reflect its changing purpose — to be less and less about actual hockey.
“As it’s grown, and especially with the growth of social media, it’s been catered more to show players’ personalities, as opposed to a straight sit-down interview about the season,” Horan said. “It has expanded to have some more fun.”