Willie Mitchell shifts Pacific balance 

September, 24, 2010

For my money, the NHL scored big on Thursday when it announced that HBO's "24/7" sports reality series would focus on the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in their run-up to the New Year's Day Winter Classic at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. HBO Sports, which will have unprecedented access to the teams, plans to air four one-hour shows on successive Wednesdays beginning on December 15.

While this will be a terrific opportunity for fans to see the game as they've never seen it before -- including two of the best players in the game in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby -- the league likely turned the heads of another important group: the players.

Around the circuit, most NHL players are thirsty for the kind of high-profile attention that their peers in the NFL, MLB and NBA receive on a regular basis. I figure players around the league -- generally -- were thrilled to get the news that their game would be featured prominently in "Hard Knocks" fashion on HBO. I know that several players tweeted they'd like to see such a program focus on their game. The league has now granted that wish.

Looking ahead, I'll certainly be curious to see how the show is received. I know there'll be at least a few old-school types that won't be thrilled. Diehards aside, this is a big deal for the NHL, which is constantly looking for different ways to get a bigger slice of the sports pie in the U.S.

But that's all a couple months away still. In the present, I'll finish up my quickie looks at each division, giving you a best and worst of their summer moves/changes. Here's a peek at the Pacific. As always, look at Summer Skate, which wraps up today; the ESPN The Magazine team previews, which I worked on, should be on ESPN.Com on Monday morning.