The NHL just recently released their preseason schedule, and you can see the entire list here. A couple things that are sticking points…
– I like the fact that instead of having regular season games in Europe they’re playing preseason games, and against European clubs, no less. The games mean less to them and their jetlag will be overcome by Opening Night. Following in David Stern‘s footsteps (surprise), Gary Bettman has decided to try and market the NHL game globally, even though a large number of current NHLers are not from North America, unlike the NBA, which averages about 1-2 Europeans per team. Some even have none. While I think playing preseason games elsewhere in the world is a great idea which will perhaps build popularity and overseas interest (much like basketball and baseball), I sincerely hope Bettman doesn’t even remotely consider establishing franchises in Europe as Paul Godfrey once idiotically suggested on OTR.
– This will perhaps be the first time we get a better sense of how good the other European clubs are, playing against NHL teams. Back when the all-star game featured NHL all-stars against the Russian national teams, it wasn’t pretty. The KHL (formerly RSL) has always contended that their teams were as good, if not better, than some teams in the NHL. We will know soon enough on October 1 when the Rangers face Metallurg Magnitogorsk in Bern. The Lightning will face the DEL’s Eisbaren Berlin, the reigning league champs, while the Sens will face off against the SEL’s Vastra Frolunda and the Pens against the FNL’s Jokerit Helsinki.
– A lot of games will be played in cities that do not feature a NHL team, but perhaps future potential franchise expansion or re-location destinations, including Halifax, Kansas City, Winnipeg, London, Salt Lake City, and Las Vegas at the storied MGM Grand. There’s little doubt in anyone’s minds that the Halifax, Winnipeg, and London games will be jam-packed, but what of Salt Lake, Kansas and Vegas? You can bet that Bettman will be on hand to personally oversee the games, as it features three very real destinations for expansion or re-location. Should the games create a lot of buzz and sell-out well in advance (I don’t think it will), you can bet that Bettman will bring up expansion once more. It’s very interesting to note that no games will be played in Hamilton. A shot at Jim Balsillie? Maybe.
– The most idiotic game? The Kings against the Sharks in Utah on a Sunday. If Bettman has forgotten, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (more commonly known as Mormons), is the predominant religion of Utah, and its followers account for roughly 60% of the state’s population. The ECHL’s Utah Grizzlies averages a little under 4000 fans per game in a 10 100 seat capacity arena. Taking a quick peek at their upcoming schedule, the Grizzlies don’t have a single Sunday home game until March. I think they’ll have quite a hard time filling the stands.