The new effort, breaking today, presents each hockey season as one that "unfolds like an epic novel," with heroes and villains and an "unpredictable climax."
The first series of 30-second TV spots features players such as Chris Pronger of the St. Louis Blues and Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings absorbed in private reveries. Mr. Shanahan's spot, for example, depicts him working furiously on a mystery story that ends with the line, "The goalie did it."
In past NHL promotions, ESPN tried to covert local hockey fans into national devotees. This year, the campaign will rely on the players and their somewhat fictionalized personalities to attract more viewers to the tube.
"Strategically, what we're trying to do is take local and regional hockey fans and make them larger fans of the game," said a spokesman. "If you are a fan of the New Jersey. Devils and see a great and funny ad with Pronger and Shanahan, we're hoping you'll become more a fan of the game, of the league and of the marquee players."
Print will run initially in ESPN the Magazine, the Oct. 4 edition of USA Today and in USA Today's "NHL Preview Guide."
"[The campaign] does a good job of capturing the personalities of the players and revealing a bit about them," said Ed Horne, president of NHL Enterprises. "Raising the profile of the players is what we're after in the NHL, and these ads do it in a fun and creative way."
Aaron Taylor, ESPN's director of advertising and program marketing, said ESPN will commit heavy levels of inventory to this campaign.
"It's going to be a seasonlong campaign, and we're probably aiming for an additional three or four new spots that will be shot in October," Mr. Taylor said.
ESPN agency Wieden & Kennedy, New York, created the new ads. Wieden has handled ESPN's "This is SportsCenter" campaign since 1994.
The campaign's teasers carry the tag "Every season has a story," later evolving into "Every game has a story" and "Every player has a story."
As ESPN debuts its new work, the NHL is ramping up an ad campaign with the theme line "The coolest game" during its Oct. 4 season opener. Those ads, created in-house, will also focus on NHL players.