NHL's success in Europe grows as league increases pre-season presence there

GYI0060996366-ninoniederreiter-bbennett.jpgThe NHL will once again be closing out part of the pre-season and starting the regular season in Europe this year and while some fans in North America may grumble a bit about their favorite teams starting off so far from home, the effect it’s having in Europe is becoming far more pronounced. If you think that love is only coming from Europe for the NHL, the NHL is equally smitten with Europe as Matthew Coutts of the National Post tells us.

For years the potential for NHL teams in Europe, perhaps an entire division in London, Prague, Stockholm, Zurich, Berlin and Helsinki — the same cities that hosted games in recent years — has been considered and salivated over.

Two years ago, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly called it a dream he would like to see happen within a decade. The players’ association has also been open to it. But that does not make it any closer to reality.

“We are a business that is ruled by hockey interest, and I think the ability to expand our business in any way is always something that is considered,” Yaffe said. “That doesn’t mean the ultimate focus is develop a division or expansion into Europe. There are a lot of major challenges to doing that.

“The reality is, we are a North American sports league that is focused on building the strength and viability of 30 clubs across the U.S. and Canada. That is the primary business and the primary focus.”

The thought of the NHL expanding into Europe is mind-boggling at the least, especially with teams struggling financially in North America (not that that didn’t stop us from speculating on expansion), but it’s clear here that the NHL is making their presence more apparent in Europe for a different reason. The NHL wants to attract more of the world’s best players to the league and inspire more players, regardless of where they’re from, to come and play in the biggest and best professional league in the world. While there’s nothing at all wrong with the Swiss, Finnish, Swedish or German elite leagues, the NHL is great melting pot for talent and wanting the best in the world to come there only makes perfect sense.

In the meantime, sending six teams to Europe this year to kick off the season will help drum up interest in the league in Ireland, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic and that means selling team merchandise and helping to excite the fans that already are there and rooting for their countrymen. While it’s fun to pick on the NHL for some of their other marketing ideas, taking advantage of Europe’s interest in the sports is a smart decision.

(Photo: Bruce Bennett – Getty Images)

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    Rakell back skating in Anaheim, but no timetable for return

    NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 21: Rickard Rakell #67 of the Anaheim Ducks skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on December 21, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The contract’s signed, the visa issues are sorted and he’s already taken a morning skate.

    Now, all Rickard Rakell needs to do is get clearance.

    Rakell, who 12 days ago signed a six-year, $22.8 million extension, was back on the ice this morning ahead of Anaheim’s game against the visiting Nashville Predators this evening.

    The 23-year-old’s return was hung up by a variety of issues. First, there was the obvious one — he had no contract — and once that was signed, Rakell was in limbo awaiting his visa.

    And he’s still not in the clear.

    Rakell is dealing with the ramifications from offseason abdominal surgery — a procedure related to an earlier appendectomy, that kept him out of the World Cup of Hockey — and is unclear as to when he can make his season debut.

    “I’m just anxious to get back and at least try,” he said, per NHL.com.

    Prior to rejoining the Ducks, Rakell had been working out and skating in his native Sweden, though none of his activity included contact. That will be the next step in his progression.

    Following a lengthy road trip to start the year, the Ducks are now locked into the state of California for quite some time. Tonight’s home tilt is followed by another Friday against the Jackets, followed by a “road” game in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 1.

    From there, the team plays three more times at Honda: Nov. 2 against the Penguins, Nov. 4 against the Coyotes, and No. 6 against the Flames.

    So, there’s a pretty good chance Rakell’s debut will come at home.

    Another twist to the Seattle arena saga

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    Just one day after news broke that investor Chris Hansen was willing to forego public financing to build a downtown arena that could potentially house an NHL and/or NBA team, there’s been another twist in the long-running Seattle saga.

    The latest from King 5 News:

    If Chris Hansen passed the ball back to the city Tuesday, Mayor Ed Murray isn’t ready to execute a slam dunk.

    In other words, Murray has other ideas for a new sports arena in Seattle, and it involves Key Arena.

    The mayor’s budget director, Ben Noble, told KING 5 that the mayor’s office is quietly exploring a major renovation of Key Arena at Seattle Center. The facility was home to the NBA’s SuperSonics until 2008 when efforts to renovate and expand its size fell through, prompting the team’s sale and move to Oklahoma City.

    It’s definitely worth noting that AEG, the same company that owns the Los Angeles Kings, is the facilities manager for Key Arena. It was reported last year that billionaire Victor Coleman had been in touch with AEG, and that his group was willing to explore the Key Arena option for an NHL team.

    Coleman, of course, has also worked as Hansen’s NHL partner, though their agreement to work together was reportedly “non-binding.”

    At the moment, it’s not clear which option — Hansen’s project or Key Arena — Coleman would prefer to pursue, or even if he’s still involved at all.

    But for Seattle hockey fans, the good news is that there’s, well, news.

    And there may be more news soon.

    Here’s a radio interview with King 5 reporter Chris Daniels, who’s been all over this story:

    Related: Bettman rejects notion that the NHL is waiting for Seattle

    Letang had a ‘good day’ at practice, Penguins hoping he can return soon

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 09: Kris Letang #58 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joonas Donskoi #27 of the San Jose Sharks battle for the puck during the third period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Yesterday, they got Sidney Crosby back.

    Soon, the Pittsburgh Penguins should have another key player back in the lineup. Kris Letang, their top defenseman, participated in full-contact practice today, taking the same step Crosby took two days ago.

    “He had a good day on the ice today, we’ll see where it goes from there,” head coach Mike Sullivan said of Letang, who’s missed three games with an upper-body injury. “We’re encouraged with his progress. We’re hoping to get him back soon.”

    The Penguins host the Islanders tomorrow night. Don’t be surprised if Letang plays. He skated with Ian Cole at this morning’s practice.

    If Letang isn’t ready to go against the Isles, his next opportunity to return will be Saturday in Philadelphia.

    Goalie nods: After Subban’s rough outing, B’s turn to McIntyre

    BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 22: Zane McIntyre #50 of the Boston Bruins makes a save against the Washington Capitals during the second period at TD Garden on September 22, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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    Crazy start to the year in Boston.

    On Wednesday night, the B’s will start their fourth different goalie of the season — a season that’s just six games old, remember — as Zane McIntyre gets the nod at MSG against the Rangers.

    McIntyre made his NHL debut in last night’s 5-0 drubbing at the hands of Minnesota, coming on in relief of Malcolm Subban, who was making his second-ever start. Subban allowed three goals on 16 shots before getting hooked midway through the second period, and McIntyre made 15 saves on 17 shots to close things out.

    Needless to say, these are tough times in Boston’s crease.

    The club’s No. 1 netminder, Tuukka Rask, is still sidelined with injury (though head coach Claude Julien said Rask may be available for Saturday’s game against Detroit). Anton Khudobin, the club’s No. 2, is out three weeks with an upper-body ailment.

    Unsurprisingly, the Bruins have struggled with all the flip-flopping in goal. They’ve allowed nine goals over their last two games — both losses — and that came after Rask stopped 62 of 64 shots in back-to-back wins over the Jets and Devils.

    For the Rangers, Henrik Lundqvist gets the start in goal.


    — Battle of the Backups in Brooklyn, as Al Montoya and the Canadiens take on Thomas Greiss and the Isles.

    Cam Talbot, fresh off a shutout win over Winnipeg in the Heritage Classic, goes for the Oilers. Braden Holtby is expected to play for Washington.

    — Some uncertainty in Anaheim: John Gibson, who came on in relief for the injured Jonathan Bernier in last night’s OT loss to San Jose, would (presumably) be the guy tonight against Nashville. That said, Gibson has played quite a bit lately — three games in the last six nights — and the club did recall Dustin Tokarski from AHL San Diego today. Tokarski has a fair bit of NHL experience, with 33 regular season and five playoff games on his resume.

    No word yet on a Preds starter.