On Jan. 16, we wrote that the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings have been invited back for NHL Premiere 2011, along with the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and the Washington Capitals. None have accepted yet.
While it's not a novelty that some NHL teams start their season in Europe, this year may be the first that such games may be played in Russia. In KHL's own backyard. And there is already plenty of opposition in Russian hockey circles to this development. Some want to see only exhibition games against KHL teams and no regular-season games between two NHL clubs. The threat of NHL expansion is probably still viewed as real in the KHL.
Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak told Sovetsky Sport, "We haven't come to a decision on anything with the NHL. I am meeting KHL President Alexander Medvedev next week to discuss... The KHL and the NHL need to be friends and need to develop their relationships. It's important for the public and for popularization of hockey in our country."
A month or so ago, KHL president Medvedev told the media in Russia that it is a certainty that the Capitals will play in Russia next fall. Not so fast; Capitals' GM George McPhee told Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport on Tuesday in Philadelphia:
"It hasn't been decided yet. The league decides that. We don't know anything at this point. We have to wait. The league has to work it out."
But at the same time, McPhee isn't all too thrilled about going to Russia: "We could refuse. The league has to work things out with the Russians first and then come to us... But we need to know quickly because we will have to make adjustments [to the preseason schedule]. We don't know whether we'll go yet.
"I haven't had much interest in going over to Europe in the preseason. I think it's a lot of travel, a lot of work. But if the league thinks it's good for hockey, good for the NHL, and good for Russian hockey, we would consider doing that. We may play an exhibition game somewhere else [in Europe] and then play [a season opener] in Russia."
Asked if he is worried about having some of the Capitals' key players injured, because a KHL team they may play against will not view the game as a "friendly" or an "exhibition," McPhee said: "I am not concerned about that. Again, I don't know who we're playing yet. The league will have to tell us what they think it would look like. And then we'll make our decisions."
As expected, the Russian contingent on the Capitals likes the idea of playing at home. Alex Ovechkin told Lysenkov: "It will be a big event for my country."
Ovechkin also said he expects a sellout arena in Moscow for a game involving the Capitals: "I am 100 percent sure of it. Because not only I, but also Varlamov and Semin will play for Washington. Half the city of Krasnoyarsk will fly over to cheer on Semin."
"I wouldn't mind flying home." Semyon Varlamov(notes) said. "This could be a really good game. If we play an exhibition game against a KHL team, then of course everyone will cheer against us. Although surely there will be those who will support Washington."
Another team that may supposedly head to Russia is the New York Rangers. And their KHL opponent? Vityaz, of all teams.
You may recall that name from a couple of bench-clearing brawls last season. Vityaz GM and a former NHL player Alexei Zhamnov confirmed that the club is negotiating with the Rangers. "We are continuing the dialogue," Zhamnov told Sovetsky Sport. "But it should all be finally clear next week. On Monday or Tuesday."
Zhamnov said that the Rangers themselves initiated the negotiation about the possibility of playing against Vityaz through one of their appointed representatives. "I have no idea why they picked us," Zhamnov continued. "Last week I received the first phone call about it. And on Thursday a representative from the Rangers will fly to Moscow. On Friday we are going to have a meeting with him to negotiate regarding details. We are very interested in this project. We had no doubts whether to agree to it."
Zhamnov said that such a game would be quite expensive and both teams will have to agree on what portion of the expenses each side will bear.
It looks like the NHL will play in Russia again next fall. And the league may even make quite a bit of money on having the Capitals, for example, play against Ovechkin's quasi-alumni Dynamo Moscow. It also looks like the final decisions will be made by the end of January.