A sports documentary covering an entire year in a particular league feels like a different and harder approach next to the more-typical focus on a team, player or event, and it requires the year in question to really stand out, the coverage to tell as many of the separate stories out there as possible, and the whole thing to tie together. The new NHL Network Originals documentary, Picture Perfect: The 1992-93 Season (premiering Friday night at 8 p.m. Eastern on NHLN) does a nice job on all three of those fronts. Here’s a look at how it opens:
Why cover 1992-93 in particular? Well, their release spells out a lot of what you’ll find here:
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of arguably the most remarkable season in NHL history, highlighted by thrilling performances from some of the game’s greatest heroes in Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Patrick Roy, and the emergence of rookie sensations Eric Lindros and Teemu Selanne. In the latest installment of the documentary series NHL Network Originals, NHL Network relives the on-ice heroics, behind-the-scenes drama and lasting significance of that year and how it’s become all the more extraordinary in the more than two decades since in Picture Perfect: The 1992-93 Season on Friday, June 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET/5:00 p.m. PT. A video clip from Picture Perfect: The 1992-93 Season is available to view here.
In new interviews with Hockey Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Kings left wing Luc Robitaille, former Kings head coach Barry Melrose, Hockey Hall of Famer Bob Miller, former Montreal Canadiens center Guy Carbonneau and former Canadiens left wing Kirk Muller, Picture Perfect revisits moments and storylines that could have each headlined a single season, from Gretzky’s career-threatening injury that kept him from the first 39 games of the season, to Roy going from being the subject of trade rumors to leading the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup championship. The film also examines the inspiring endurance and dominant comeback of “Super Mario” Lemieux following his diagnosis and treatment for Hodgkin’s Disease, as described by current and former hockey journalists Al Morganti, Tom McMillan, Paul Steigerwald and Gary Thorne.
And the film makes a pretty compelling argument for the importance of 1992-93, and the way it’s done should appeal to both hardcore NHL history fans and those who don’t know as much about the league’s past. Many of the individual elements in here, from Gretzky’s injury and how the Kings battled through it to Lindros forcing a trade from Quebec to Philadelphia (and who he was actually traded to being settled by arbitration) to Selanne’s spectacular 76-goal rookie campaign to Lemieux being on pace to break Gretzky’s single-season points record before a Hodgkin’s disease diagnosis, are going to be familiar to those who have followed the NHL for a while, but there are some new details and new perspectives here that should interest even those who think they know these stories. And the more remarkable realization (and the one that makes this documentary’s focus work well) for even seasoned hockey fans may be that all of these incredible stories were taking place in the same season.
As with most sports documentaries, a key element here is the choice of who to interview, and Picture Perfect does a solid job there. They bring in some league-wide figures, such as then-NHL on ESPN personalities Al Morganti and Gary Thorne, to provide a wider perspective on why individual stories matter, but then also drill down on several of the specific stories with local journalists and involved players, coaches and executives. The footage of the Lindros trade at the 1992 draft is a good example, with both discussion of what was going on from league-wide figures and then an interview with then-Rangers GM Neil Smith about how he thought he had acquired Lindros, only to learn that the Flyers had made a deal for him too (they eventually prevailed in arbitration). And even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is involved, specifically to comment on Selanne’s amazing season.
One of the documentary’s strongest elements is how it covers the Montreal Canadiens, who eventually lifted the Stanley Cup that year (the most recent time a Canadian team has done so) after a roller coaster of a season. Well-known Montreal journalists Michael Farber, Pat Hickey and Mitch Melnick are all interviewed, and each supplies some interesting insights, as do former players Guy Carbonneau and Kirk Muller. The discussion of star goalie Patrick Roy being on the trade block early that season is a fascinating what-if to ponder, and it’s interesting to hear Melnick talk about how few locally figured that team had much of a chance at first.
And when it gets to the Stanley Cup Final against the Gretzky and Barry Melrose-led Kings, there’s some excellent back and forth between those associated with each team (Kings’ people interviewed include Melrose, Gretzky, Robitaille, Miller and fellow broadcaster Jim Fox), especially when it comes to the much-debated illegal stick call on Marty McSorley and whether or not the Canadiens pre-measured that (Robitaille says a security guard told him they did, Carbonneau denies it).
A highlight of the documentary involves former NHL official Kerry Fraser, who wound up making that call, describing his own “Marty, what are you thinking?” reaction. There’s also interesting insight on how the Kings got there (the preseason injury to Gretzky that had Melrose rethinking his L.A. over Detroit decision, the way Robitaille and others stepped up, the way Gretzky worked himself back into the lineup, and Gretzky’s own story about an overconfident security guard in Toronto during the Western Conference Final). Here’s a look at one of the clips on the Kings in Gretzky’s absence:
A challenge with this many separate stories is tying them all together thematically, but Picture Perfect makes it work. The main transition involves a photo lab developing pictures of these different players and moments while voiceover sets up the next scene, and this works out pretty well. And the decisions on what to cover in what order are made well, with the story proceeding roughly chronologically, but also along thematic lines (talk of Lindros to talk of fellow rookie Selanne, talk of Gretzky to talk of Lemieux and so on). It all fits, and it all makes for a solid overall product, one that should be interesting for both those who already know much of the history here and those who are newer to the sport.
This is the fourth installment in the NHL Network Originals series, following The First NHL Winter Classic: Hockey Goes Outside, Orchestrating An Upset: The 1996 World Cup of Hockey and Slap Shot at 40, and it’s a good one. It’s neat to see the network embracing NHL history, and telling good stories from it that can appeal to all sorts of hockey fans. Hopefully we’ll see other documentaries along these lines down the road.
Picture Perfect: The 1992-93 Season premieres Friday night on NHL Network at 8 p.m. Eastern.