Bettman flies teams to Europe for preseason
The good and the bad as the NHL releases official preseason schedule
You know the NHL hockey season is near when the league releases the preseason schedule. It’s times like this that cities without a franchise get to experience a NHL game again as the league enjoys playing in vacant arenas. This year’s lucky winners are American cities Kansas City, MGM Grand in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City while Canadian cities Halifax, London, Moncton, Summerside and Winnipeg will all host a game during the September 20 th and October 2 nd exhibition season.
This year is a little more special. Commissioner Gary Bettman wants to promote NHL in Europe much more seriously as four teams will play five games overseas. The interesting part being that it will not be NHL team versus NHL team.
On September 28 th, Vincent Lecavalier will lead his Tampa Bay Lightning in Berlin to face the German champions, Eisbaren Berlin. Back during the NHL lockout, this team was fortunate enough to have Erik Cole and Olaf Kolzig wear the polar bear jersey. This will also give Germany a chance to promote and advertise their newly built, state of the art multi-purpose O2 World Arena.
The New York Rangers will than play twice in Europe on consecutive nights in Switzerland against two different teams. Firstly on September 30 th, they will battle it out with SC Bern, the 11 time Swiss champions who have not won the title in four years followed by playing against Europe’s best team and champions the next day.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk is a Russian based team that won the 2008 European IIHF hockey league to reign as the best club in Europe. New York will have their hands full in this game as it may be the inaugural “Victory Cup” match. After this clash, the NHL and IIHF may start a tradition of having a random North American pro team face the champions of Europe’s pro league.
Sweden will welcome Daniel Alfredsson and his Ottawa Senators to his hometown of Gothenburg on October 2 nd to face club team Frolunda HC. This is the team that Alfredsson joined during the NHL lockout and now holds records for in most playoff goals in a season (12) and most points in a playoff season (18). Also, Henrik Lundqvist and Christian Backman have both played for Frolunda.
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On the same night, the highly anticipated arrival of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins will hit the ice in Helsinki to challenge Jokerit. These six time national champions have had the likes of Jari Kurri, Esa Tikkanen, Teemu Selanne, Kari Lehtonen, and Brian Campbell all step on the ice for them.
Bettman is receiving criticism for his European attempts before even fixing his North American problems. Markets in the southern states are having a difficult time bringing fans to the games; the Lightning had a hard time selling out games for the Stanley Cup finals a few years ago. Instead of playing in Berlin, why not play in cities that want just to experience one NHL game.
In the U.S., Houston, Portland, Indianapolis and Oklahoma City are all cities that have talked about NHL teams while Milwaukee has also been quietly interested for awhile now. Ironically, I have named five possible replacement cities for the five games that are being played in Europe instead.
So why does Bettman give the cold shoulder?
Nope, you cannot blame it on the arena capacity. What you can blame it on is the growth of European hockey leagues but mainly the Russian Super League. This league is drawing out many great talents out of the NHL with their crazy salary offers (Jaromir Jagr is the latest to sign a possible $15 million a year after bonuses) while the money and politics have many others forcing to stay in Russia. Some of the best European players do not even enter the NHL draft or if they do, the NHL team has to buy the player while going through sheets of paper work. Evgeni Malkin is a prime example of this.
Bettman wants to keep the NHL as a worldwide league with the globes finest players suiting up, yet all he has to offer is one exhibition game a year. Oh wait! His criteria plans have included the possibility of playing regular season games on the other side of the world but that will not go good with local fans.
Bettman has a well set agenda in making sure that European fans see that NHL has much more to offer hockey wise, just not convenient wise. I agree with those who want him to fix locally first and globally second in this case.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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