Expect more NHL games in Europe

November, 21, 2009
If anyone thought the NHL's regular-season games in Europe were a short-term experiment, guess again.

The league wants to expand to six teams next fall, up from four, and have approached the following clubs to gauge their interest: Minnesota, Carolina, Boston, Columbus, Phoenix and San Jose. Sources from all six teams confirmed as much but also stressed that it doesn't mean for sure they are going over. It remains early in the planning stages.

Calgary and San Jose were originally in the mix, but in the end weren't in the final plans that sent Chicago and Florida to Helsinki and Detroit and St. Louis to Stockholm to open this season.

Pittsburgh and Ottawa were in Stockholm at the start of the 2008-09 season, while Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers tangled in Prague. Los Angeles and Anaheim played the first edition of the Premiere Games at the beginning of the 2007-08 season in London.

The appetite of teams to start the year in Europe varies from eagerness to lukewarm to no thanks. But as one team source told ESPN.com on Saturday, "All 30 teams are going to have to do it at some point, so you might as well get it over with."

The NHL will have sent 16 of its 30 teams to open the year in Europe after next season's six-team set. If the Bruins do indeed end up going, that'll mean only Toronto and Montreal among the Original Six teams will not have partaken yet.

And let me say this: I know some people are wondering why the NHL is bothering with these European games, but Scott Burnside and I have had the chance to cover these since the beginning three years ago, and we both wholeheartedly agree they've been a huge success. There's a tremendous buzz over there for these games, and it's a great way for the league and NHL Players' Association to have a footprint overseas.

Maple Leafs shakeup

I'm told Leafs GM Brian Burke was working the phones mighty hard this weekend, trying to shake up his last-place team.

He has cap space for rent, and that's a valuable asset in today's NHL. I'm told he was angling at that very type of deal with a couple of NHL teams -- the offer of taking off their hands an undesirable contract to give them cap relief in exchange for also getting a good draft pick out of it.

Gee, let me think what team is screaming for salary cap relief: Chicago! I believe the Leafs and Blackhawks have spoken, given Chicago's dire need to clear up "tagging room" in order to finalize long-term extensions for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith (Andrew Ebbett was claimed off waivers by Minny from Chicago on Saturday, but he earns only $500,000). I think the player the Leafs would take off their hands is veteran defenseman Brent Sopel, who is nearing $2.5 million this season and $2 million next year. (Sopel played for Burke in Vancouver.) Can the Leafs get a second-round pick as well? That remains to be seen. I think the Hawks are also talking to a few other teams about Sopel, and the Leafs are talking to other teams.

If the Leafs can't make a trade by Monday, I think you'll see one or two players sent down to the AHL to send a message. Enough is enough seems to be the feeling in the Leafs' front office.

Marc my word

I'm not sure why the trade rumors won't go away with Marc Savard, but from what I'm being told, they are simply not true. Not only is he not on the block, but I hear the Bruins and Savard's camp are getting close to agreeing on a long-term extension. It's not a done deal, but I hear it's close.

Back to school

Former NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly might still have "executive director" next to his name in his new job. It's still being worked out, but I'm told he may be named the executive director of College Hockey Inc. -- a newly formed position in which Kelly will basically act as the U.S. college hockey czar, overseeing all aspects of NCAA hockey and its relationships with the NHL, NHLPA, USA Hockey, etc.

Mueller on the move?

Third-year winger Peter Mueller doesn't appear to be fitting in well with new head coach Dave Tippett. His minutes are down from 16:04 last season to 14:03 per game this year. He's been scratched a few times. Teams are reading into the situation and inquiring with the Coyotes. GM Don Maloney is reluctant to let go on a high-end talent like Mueller, but at some point you have to wonder if he doesn't move him for the right price. Mueller is also a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

Saving Bobby Ryan

I'm told the Ducks made Bobby Ryan an offer last month but was rejected. Contract talks are now off until after the season. He's a restricted free agent July 1, coming off his entry-level deal. The last thing the Ducks need right now is a contract issue with this talented kid, given the problem they already have in trying to move J.S. Giguere's contract off the books and also re-signing Jonas Hiller to an extension.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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