1. 4.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taking On Europe – The Colonel

I just read the blog “Paradigm shift – The NHL’s exodus from Europe” from HabsWatch. Well said, I say. Sitting at this year’s entry draft in Los Angeles, subliminally I noted most of the names called I could actually pronounce the first time around. I just didn’t put two-and-two together as well as ‘Paradigm shift…” did. The call that the NHL is losing out by its aversion to looking East rings true like incoming small arms fire.

So if it is locked in battle, in this case an ambush of diversion from Euro-talent, how does the NHL win? The best way to defeat an ambush is to attack.

To their credit, the NHL has gone from a tentative foot dipped in to test the waters on up to ankle-deep, Euro-wading. But if the NHL is THE premiere Hockey league in the world and it is in danger of slipping a gear, something bold must be undertaken.

I say next season it’s time to ‘Go Big, Or Go Home’ with the next step. So here are my recommendations – from East to West – for diving into the European (Premier) waters head first in 2011:

St. Petersburg (FRI, 7 OCT) and Moscow, Russia (SUN, 9 OCT). You simply cannot do this one if it’s not WSH and PIT for the Russian (and other, showcase) star power on these two teams that a Russian Fan can most identify with. Have this series include a pre-season game for each team against a KHL squad, to boot. This should gain the NHL a slew of new Russian fans while tipping their hat to the Russian-born player contribution.

Helsinki, Finland (FRI, 7 OCT and SAT, 8 OCT). For this match-up, I would throw the Fins DAL and MIN. That’s two teams who both have a history of recruiting players from that country and a natural, family rivalry based on franchise beginnings. An 8pm local start gives them a 12 noon start time back in the local markets, so MIN and TX can kick off the weekend early. (Columbus Day isn’t the only holiday in October if there’s Euro-Hockey Day, right?)

Stockholm, Sweden (FRI, 7 OCT and SAT, 8 OCT). With the plethora of Swede’s playing in the NHL, you have to give them a good tilt. I say the USA versus Canada and Original Six combination of TOR and DET gets lots of Swedes in the building for a great pairing. A royal event here in terms of franchise histories and national representation!

Prague, Czech Republic (FRI, 7 OCT and SAT, 8 OCT). This pairing, were it being done today, should be with CBJ and PHX due to the sheer numbers of Czechs on the two teams. A great way to salute Czech skaters in the NHL, it provides the dual effect of reaching Czech fans and potential, future NHLers. This also calls for at least two pre-season games in the Czech Republic to spread the NHL wealth around even more.

London, England (SAT, 8 OCT and SUN, 9 OCT). Have you seen the shenanigans at a British ‘football’ match? There are no two, better teams for this match-up than the NYR and PHI. Scoring, smashing and brawling are all likely to rock the O2 Arena. (Can I get tickets to this one now?)

Belfast, Ireland (THU, 6 OCT and FRI, 7 OCT). While they are going this year for a pre-season game, BOS has to return to their Irish roots for a game that counts. Who best to pair them up with than Original Six rival MTL? I ask you – a heated rivalry with fans that will be rooting for the Bruins? No offense, MTL, but even you have to like this idea. And of course, there will need to be another pre-season game for BOS against Irish Selects, but MTL can get an early game in there against them as well.

In space and time, the games could look like this:

Some (Great) Ramifications

There are several points to bring out with this recommendation:

1. The end of the 2010 pre-season:

a. Prime Hockey countries without regular season games here include Slovakia, Norway, Germany and Switzerland. Teams – other than CBJ and PHX in the Czech Republic – would need to schedule exhibition games in those countries with local, all-star, professional teams. With PIT and WSH potentially playing exhibitions against KHL teams, CBJ and PHX remaining in the Czech Republic, and MTL/BOS and NYR/PHI potentially playing in Ireland and England respectively, then DET, TOR, DAL and MIN should pick up those countries’ exhibition games.

b. PIT and WSH pre-season games against KHL teams better bring the “A” squad. From statements like, ‘…Kovy, WE will give you a 17-year contract and you can play for any team in our League you want to,’ these are likely to be a Summit Series effort from the KHLians and should be responded to in kind by the NHL.

2. This schedule puts 12 NHL teams out of country to begin the season:

a. All but one match-up has a day in between the games in order to build up the local media hype for the games.

b. DET and TOR would need the home and away, cross-Conference schedule to pair them up twice and no home crowd would see this match in person.

c. DAL and MIN and CBJ and PHX would lose 2/3 of their intra-Conference matchups.

d. All other teams would lose two games within their Division, leaving only two more in each home town for the remainder of the season.

e. You also would not likely see these traveling teams back on the schedule before Friday or Saturday of the next week. That being the case, I propose the rest of the teams’ seasons begin on Monday with two games played as (just about) regional, intra-Conference, home-and-away pairs prior to Friday, 14 OCT (BUF vs OTT; NJD vs NYI; CHI vs STL; CAR vs ATL; FLA vs TBL; NSH vs COL; EDM vs CGY; SJS vs VAN and LAK vs ANA). How’s a weeks’ worth of four-point games back in North America grab you after listening to the roar of European crowds for your favorite NHL teams? Are you thinking ‘So what?’ Wait ‘till you see how these pairs play out in the regular season this year.

3. Making these six tilts happen over multiple time zones simultaneously with the requirement for teams to travel back in from Europe and integrate back into North American time lets the NHL and their prime broadcast partners stretch their legs on Euro scheduling, travel, communications and broadcast transmissions and integration. Do this and on a micro scale you will know if you are up to the complexities of future expansion to Europe and a truly GHL.

4. And the 8pm local WSH/PIT and 7:30pm local NYR/PHI tilts? This is the Versus pairing for Friday and Sunday, with NYR/BOS squeezed in on Saturday. Wait – Saturday and Sunday in October? Up against College Football and the NFL? Hell yeah, I say. Why does Hockey only get to be the king on 1 January? It always only will be until it wins in battle.

So come on, NHL! Put on your battle rattle and gear up for an even bigger NHL Premiere in Europe in 2011. Lock and load and draw down on the KHL, and NCAA and NFL football. Then give us a bunch of home-and-away pairs of games with no distracting competitors in between to kick up the competitive tempo a notch. With some heart meds, beer and comfort food, we Fans can take it.

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