To find a general manager that will lead them into a new era, the Buffalo Sabres are trying a modern approach - pitting candidates against each other in a televised reality competition show.
Buffalo's Next Top General Manager! will see 16 prospective GMs vie for the top job of running the rebuilding Sabres. Co-hosted by new Sabres president Pat LaFontaine and NBC Sports' Michelle Beadle, BNTGM! is the first television series to give away an executive position with a professional hockey team as a grand prize.
If they want to win, the contestants will have to survive a daunting gauntlet of physical tests, mind-bending puzzles, teamwork challenges and ruthless gamesmanship. Only the last one remaining will win the title of Sabres general manager.
"This is the ultimate sports management competition game show," LaFontaine said at the series' official announcement at First Niagara Center. "I look forward to working with the winner and building the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender."
Standing in the way of the Sabres front office will be obstacle courses, weight loss competitions, business challenges, boxing matches, runway shows, scavenger hunts, wilderness survival exercises and other events. After each test, LaFontaine and a panel of celebrity judges and former Sabres will determine which contestant will be eliminated and who moves on to the next round.
"I expect this will be the most grueling experience of my life," said candidate Jason Botterill, who comes to the show from the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. "But I didn't come here to make friends. I came here to win. "
The weekly two-hour show will debut in January 2014 on NBC Sports Network and be part of a new Thursday night line-up that includes NFL Turning Point, and the all-new Shooting Furry Things with Ted Nugent. A live season finale will unveil the winner just prior to the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and will feature Buffalo natives Goo Goo Dolls as special music guests.
Produced by the same voices behind the NBC's venerable hit The Biggest Loser, Buffalo's Next Top General Manager! promises to show fans a side of pro sports management that they've never seen before: general managers being overly aggressive and trying to crush the competition at least once a week.
"To be a general manager in the NHL, you need to be smart, tough and ruthless," said Beadle. "In every episode, these contestants will be tested on those qualities. One week, they'll need to build a self-serve yogurt shop from the ground up. The next week, they'll have 10 hours to construct a wedding dress out of stick tape. The next, they'll have to cook a meal for 200 major junior prospects while at the same time scouting the players' fitness and hockey sense. They had better bring their 'A' game."
Botterill is just one member of an economically and ethnically-diverse cast of characters. Also competing will be Brad Treliving from the Phoenix Coyotes, Tim Murray of the Ottawa Senators, Jim Benning of the Boston Bruins and Mike Futa of the Los Angeles Kings. Some contestants from outside the NHL will compete as well, such as Jennifer Zimmering, a mom and homemaker from Tenafly, N.J., Joel Koatesmith a retired firefighter from Pomfret, Vt. and Alexandra Puce, an aspiring rapper and street chalk artist from Waconia, Minn.
"I'm just a college student from a small town in Minnesota. This is all very exciting," said the 22-year-old Puce. "Having a chance to win Buffalo's Next Top General Manager! is something I've wanted ever since I was a little girl. I never dreamed I'd have the opportunity."
Koatesmith sees Buffalo's Next Top General Manager! as a shot at redemption.
"I'm doing this for my family, who have sacrificed so much," he said, breaking down in tears. "I want to show them how much I love them by bringing home this title. It would mean everything to them if I became the Sabres GM."
The contestant that finishes as the runner-up will be named general manager of the Calgary Flames.
This is satire. There is no Buffalo's Next Top General Manager! But if Pat LaFontaine uses this idea, I expect an executive producer credit.