January 16, 2011
The NHL Premiere series began in 2007, with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks opening the regular season in London. The O2 Arena was sold out for both games. Corey Perry(notes) took the Stanley Cup to the TARDIS. No one back in North America cared all that much, so the season "opened" with a whimper, days before other teams played their first games.
According to Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, the Ducks and Kings have been invited back for NHL Premiere 2011, along with the Buffalo Sabres, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers (also their second go-round) and the Washington Capitals. None have accepted yet.
Last year's games were in Helsinki, Prague and Stockholm; as E.J. Hradek of ESPN The Magazine first reported Friday night, the sites are expected to increase to six next season, with Helsinki and Stockholm expected among the cities again.
Might we see Ovechkin in Moscow?
It makes sense for the Rangers to go again since Madison Square Garden, undergoing impressive renovations/improvements next summer, won't be ready for the Rangers until mid-October, a source said Saturday.
But perhaps the most intriguing possibility is the Caps playing a game in Moscow. You know how much Washington captain Alex Ovechkin would love that. The tentative plan is for six NHL games in six cities and the Caps in Moscow is one of several options being looked at.
There was a report in SPORT_Expressen (Sweden) last month that the Capitals were "one of the remaining candidates to play their NHL premier in Stockholm next season," but one imagines Moscow organizers would ante up to get Ovechkin to open in Moscow.
(One wonders which NHL team would be masochistic enough to sign up to be the Washington Generals to Ovie's Globetrotters in the eyes of Russian fans, for a game that would count in the standings.)
The NHL Premiere Series hasn't been universally lauded. It's been criticized as a cash grab. At the World Hockey Summit, there was criticism of the series from Daniel Alfredsson(notes) and from Glenn Healy, who called deemed the experiment as unsuccessful. Said NHL VP Bill Daly:
"I certainly don't believe that's been the case to date," said Bill Daly. "Certainly over time, as we expand the number of teams that are going over there and we go over there more often, I would think that the sophisticated European audiences will want to see our best teams and our best players."
Leahy and I disagree on the Premiere Series. My concern last season was with NHL teams playing meaningless exhibitions games against local clubs trying to make a statement, like SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL trying to take out Eric Staal's(notes) knees and generally gooning it up against the Carolina Hurricanes last season. But I'm generally in favor of the NHL continuing the series to plant a flag in these markets -- as long as the NHLPA is down with it.
Leahy, on the other hand, called for the end of the series last year, specifically because it takes away from the regular season home dates for teams:
The accomplishments of their countrymen across the globe are news in these European cities. If the NHL wants to use Europe as a place for teams to hold training camp and exhibition games, great -- it's been done in the past. But to taking away from the fans of the franchises that travel over is another slight to the same people plunking money down for rising tickets to support rising player salaries.
But instead of the end, the series is expanding. Assuming Helsinki, Stockholm and Moscow, where else should the teams play? Munich?