Wings, Blues could open next season in Europe

December, 16, 2008
Nothing is finalized at this point and plans still could change, but both the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues could possibly open next season overseas.

Six NHL teams are expected to open the 2009-10 season in Europe, up from four this season and two in 2007-08. But let us stress again that it could still blow up depending on how final negotiations go between the NHL and NHL Players' Association.

But, for now, you can almost pencil in Detroit and St. Louis. The league approached the Red Wings last year, but Detroit gave it a pass at the time.

"I do have interest now," Red Wings GM Ken Holland told on Tuesday. "I'm interested only if it's Sweden because of our Swedish contingent. I basically told the league there's three or four things [to make sure of] and I'm interested."

1. The Wings don't want to lose money. Between one preseason game in Europe and one regular-season game that counts as a home date, Holland just wants to make sure the finances will work. "I just want to break even. I don't want to lose money going to Europe. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense."

2. No touring around Europe. "If we're going to go, we want to jump on a plane and land in Sweden. I don't want to barnstorm. That comes from a fatigue factor."

3. Enough time off coming home. "Which I don't think would be an issue," Holland said.

The Blues have given the league a soft affirmative. Since the Blues and Red Wings are divisional rivals, it only makes sense from our perspective that St. Louis faces Detroit in Sweden.

"We're waiting to hear back from the league," Blues president John Davidson told yesterday. "We'll go if the deal is right. But it has to work with the game you'd play, who you play, where you'd play them, can you get an exhibition game or two in there also. It takes away from a home game during the regular season, so your finances have to work properly. How much time off to do you have before you come back from Europe and play your next game? Is it at home? All that puzzle has to fit.

"We're in the middle of doing all that stuff. My feeling is that it will happen, but you don't know for sure."

This season, the Rangers and Lightning opened up in Prague, while the Penguins and Senators played in Stockholm. The Ducks and Kings played in London to open the 2007-08 season.

Unless the economic downturn forces the NHL and NHL Players' Association to downscale their plans, the idea right now is to send eight teams overseas to open the 2010-11 season.

The Wings in Sweden just makes so much sense. It would be a homecoming for Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Mikael Samuelsson, Niklas Kronwall, Andreas Lilja and Tomas Holmstrom.

Of course, that's providing the Wings re-sign Zetterberg and Franzen! At last season's All-Star Game in Atlanta, we remember when the NHL announced the Premiere Games for Prague and Stockholm. We asked Rangers GM Glen Sather whether he was concerned Czech star Jaromir Jagr may not even be there given his impending free-agent status. He shrugged us off. Oops.

Either way, like the Rangers, the Wings are a huge hockey brand. If the point is to sell the NHL to rabid hockey fans in Europe, it's about time Detroit is involved.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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