TORONTO - "Battle of the Blades" mastermind Kevin Albrecht says the achievements of past competitors on the popular reality series have prospective NHL contestants shaking in their skates.
"The success of the NHL players is kind of a bit of a Catch-22 for us in that it gave great exposure and they all know about it now and they think it's great, but a lot of them are going: 'I don't think I can be that good,'" Albrecht said with a laugh in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"When you see (season 2 winner) Valeri Bure and these guys, the level they got to, a lot of them are going: 'Oh, I don't know if I can do that.'"
CBC has not made an official announcement regarding a third season of the reality competition — which pairs figure skaters with ex-NHLers — but a spokesman for the public broadcaster said all would be revealed when the network announces its fall schedule next month.
Albrecht, however, says he knows of about 15 former players who are keen on appearing on the show.
But he says producers have yet to sign anyone for another instalment of the show because they try to wait until after July 1, which marks the opening of NHL free agency.
That's the point at which many veterans decide whether they want to lace up their skates for another year of hockey or retreat into retirement instead.
"We want to get the NHL players as close to playing (as possible), as soon as they retire, because they're in great shape, and they're fit and they're ready to go, and that's how we can get them to another level," he said.
Albrecht expects many of the same figure skaters from last season to return, but says producers aim to bring in "at least three, sometimes four new girls" to keep things interesting. He hopes to have figured out the roster of skaters by the end of June.
And Albrecht, who once managed the careers of Wayne Gretzky, Mike Weir and Kurt Browning, acknowledges that he's heard from plenty of skaters who would love to appear on the show, which has become a breakout hit for CBC.
"We knew it would be successful, but we didn't think it would be to the level of success that it's reached," said Albrecht, who added that there's interest in creating international versions of the series in Russia and the United States.
"I think it's great for the NHL guys, but I think it's great for the skaters. The NHL guys now have such respect for the figure skaters.
"I've had guys who — they're going to go in the hall of fame — and they're going: 'I can't even skate compared to these girls.' So I think it's wonderful for figure skating as well."
But the show's hit status won't prevent producers from tinkering.
Last season saw the inclusion of international performers, a decision Albrecht felt "added a lot of spice and interest" to the show. So the foreign-born competitors will be back, though the next batch of hockey-playing hopefuls should not expect an easy ride.
"There will be some tweaks as far as what they have to do," Albrecht hinted.
"Maybe look for some compulsory elements to be included — which I know just scares the heck out of the NHL guys."