We're trying something new three times a week on the Globe on Hockey blog, sending our roster of puck writers a question to debate throughout the day.
We invite you to give us your opinion via the comments section or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today's query: Should the NHL continue to play regular season games in Europe?
Let's hear it for more NHL games abroad. In Buenos Aires. In Shanghai. In Trinidad and Tobago - whichever one wants the Minnesota Wild.
t's time the NHL take a pass on sending teams to Europe. It's now been done and done some more and who really knows to what degree of success if any? Whether the measure is jersey sales or 'growing the game,' it's hard to believe sending the Columbus Blue Jackets or Phoenix Coyotes to Sweden and the Czech Republic is going to turn the Euros on to the NHL game. Over there, they love their local club teams and their national team. Over here, we could care less about Sven or Marian unless they're good and about to sign with our favourite NHL squad. The rest has proven to be as important as the Florida Panthers' fourth line.
But playing NHL games in Australia or South Africa or places outside the hockey norm? At least that would be fun. A bit of crazy juxtaposition, like John Tortorella coaching Sean Avery.
Forget Prague. Let's send the San Jose Sharks to Pago Pago.
Of course. And let the time come when the NHL either expands to Europe or else a league there is strong enough to challenge for the Stanley Cup. The Cup, after all, is a "challenge" cup, not an "NHL" cup, as courts have ruled.
Also, any hockey at the highest skill level that is played on the proper ice surface (international) is superior to when played on the scrunched rinks of North America.
The NHL's popularity in Canada is virtually tapped out, there's not much more to be gained north of the border unless Winnipeg and Quebec City get their franchises back, and unless the league finally wakes up and puts a second team in southern Ontario.
The indifference south of the border isn't changing anytime soon, despite the best efforts of the league office.
Europe represents the best growth area, a continent full of hockey fans who already watch the NHL, but can be cultivated into more ardent supporters.
Interesting question because I wondered about that myself when watching a quartet of compelling matches on opening night. You had Pittsburgh, unveiling the House That Mario Lemieux built against the Flyers; defending champion Chicago's new-look line-up on the road against Colorado; and two of Canada's premier rivalries, Montreal-Toronto and Calgary-Edmonton, going at it on a Hockey Night In Canada doubleheader.
For me, that had the unintended effect of overshadowing the fact that fully one fifth of the league's teams were starting overseas this year with games in Stockholm, Helsinki and Prague respectively.
This, by the way, is all part of the NHL's European strategy which, contrary to what IIHF president Rene Fasel may think, doesn't actually feature expansion plans in the near future.
What the NHL is trying to accomplish with this venture is cement an interest in the league, at a time when Russia's Kontinental Hockey League does have plans to expand into Europe, and where the NHL is getting a decent toehold, largely through its internet presence.
On that level, staying the course with this initiative makes some sense to me. Consider for example that about 20 per cent of the traffic for the league's web site, nhl.com, emanates from Europe. People there care about the NHL product. Say what you fill about the NHL - it has long understood the value of new technologies as a means of producing revenue. This European odyssey is about cementing those gains, in a place where so much of the high-end talent comes from anyway.
Once upon a time, teams had to be dragged across the ocean reluctantly - and were made to do so for the greater good of the league. There was a perception that it would negatively impact a team competitively because of the disruptive possibilities.
General managers and coaches are across-the-board control freaks at some level or other. It comes with the job description, and when they start the year in Europe, they don't have quite the same control as when they play out of their own rinks.
Accordingly, the best thing that happened to commissioner Gary Bettman's European marketing schemes is that, in the last two years, one of the teams that made the tour ended up winning the Stanley Cup. It happened to the Pittsburgh Penguins two years ago and it happened to the Chicago Blackhawks last year. I talked to Phoenix Coyotes' head coach, Dave Tippett about this before they made their jaunt to Prague. Tippett has spent a lot of time in Europe after two tours of duties with Canada's men's Olympic hockey team. His assistant, Dave King, has coached in Sweden, Germany and Russia. The Coyotes' captain, Shane Doan, has been a long-time mainstay on a succession of world championship teams, on behalf of Canada.
Tippett says that four years in, the league has figured out how to handle the scheduling, especially upon their return. He also noted they have a lot of experience in the organization dealing with the time change - and that implies. Still ... "There are some challenges as a coach," he told me. "It's not your normal 'let's get ready for the game' mentality. It's 'let's go sight-seeing.'"
But is that even necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, the experience of seeing another culture and another way living can help a young player grow up faster - become more well-rounded by being more aware of the world around him. Maturity as a hockey player often goes hand-in-hand with players simply maturing as people - and for better or worse, growing into the adult that they will eventually become. Going to Europe didn't hurt the Penguins or the Blackhawks, two teams that relied on their young nucleuses to win championships in back-to-back years.
Who knows? Maybe it'll push the Coyotes or the Bruins, or heaven forbid even the Sharks, over the top this year.
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