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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    These 2017 NHL Draft picks lacked hype … but not swagger

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    The interview process for draft prospects must be a real beating. Then again, it’s also an opportunity for hopefuls to push back.

    In the case of two smaller prospects, it meant providing some swagger in their answers, possibly impressing their new teams. If nothing else, Kailer Yamamoto and Michael DiPietro generated some refreshingly confident quotes.

    One would assume that the Edmonton Oilers picked Yamamoto with the 22nd choice for more than just a great answer alone … but still.

    Nice, right?

    Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek related a similar story about DiPietro, who the Vancouver Canucks nabbed with the 64th pick.

    Funny story: When one team at the NHL told him “We don’t think you can play in the NHL with our team, you’re too small” at the combine, he fired back with “well, I guess you have a problem with winning, then.” How do you not like that?

    If nothing else, those two aren’t shy.

    As a bonus story, check out the bumpy path Will Reilly – aka the “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2017 NHL Draft – took to being chosen last overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, via Puck Daddy’s Sean Leahy. From the sound of things, there are worse feelings than going 217th.

    The 2017 NHL Draft may have been “pumped down” from a hype perspective, yet it sounds like many of these prospects at least bring some moxie to the table.

    Kings, Golden Knights labeled 2017 NHL Draft winners; Bruins, not so much

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    It’s nearly certain that we won’t be able to determine the “winners and losers” of the 2017 NHL Draft until, say, 2022. If not later.

    Still, what fun is that?

    Quite a few outlets pegged some winners and losers, though sometimes the choices were more about themes like nations or player types than specific teams.

    For example: Puck Daddy gives a thumbs down to the “green room” experiment.

    Let’s take a look at some of the consensus picks.

    Winners

    Vegas Golden Knights

    GM George McPhee was dealt a bad hand when it comes to the lottery draft, so he instead made his own luck. And then he selected three players who could improve this team going forward.

    Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek especially liked the last two of their three first-rounders (Nick Suzuki and Erik Brannstrom), viewing Cody Glass as more of a no-brainer. Plenty of others were on board.

    Los Angeles Kings

    Gabe Vilardi fell to Los Angeles, whether it was because of shaky skating or some other reason. That potential steal (and some other shrewd moves) impressed the Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy, who assembled draft profiles for PHT.

    Again, Vilardi’s loss was considered the Kings’ gain, as slower skaters were considered losers by the likes of Post Media’s Michael Traikos.

    Philadelphia Flyers

    Boy, Ron Hextall is good at this thing, isn’t he? Philly drew high marks even beyond the layup of landing Nolan Patrick. The main area of disagreement revolved around the Brayden Schenn trade, though plenty came out on Hextall’s side there, too.

    Arizona Coyotes

    Boy, that negative press didn’t last long, did it? Between landing Niklas Hjalmarsson, Derek Stepan, and Antti Raanta in trades and savvy picks, they were a popular choice.

    Themes

    Smaller players, Sweden, and Finland drew semi-serious mentions as “winners.”

    Losers

    Boston Bruins

    The perception is that they played it too safe.

    Colorado Avalanche, for now?

    OK, this was more about draft weekend than picks, but people are criticizing Joe Sakic for standing pat. That could change, but the negative sentiment is there.

    Detroit Red Wings

    Another common choice. Some believe that their draft was the worst of them all, which isn’t great considering the declining opinion of GM Ken Holland overall.

    New York Rangers

    Lias Andersson was viewed as a reach by plenty, and his connection to the trade to Arizona might intensify the scrutiny.

    Themes

    Not a great draft for Russian-born players and/or guys who don’t skate quite swiftly.

    ***

    So, those are some of the near-consensus choices for winners and losers, via the brave souls who made rapid reactions to the 2017 NHL Draft.

    Ducks ink D Holzer to two-year deal reportedly worth $1.8M

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    As the dust settled on the expansion draft, the Anaheim Ducks’ defense is coming into focus.

    Sunday continued that pattern; the Ducks signed Korbinian Holzer to a two-year contract worth $1.8 million, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

    You can break down the Ducks defense as more expensive players (Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Cam Fowler, and Kevin Bieksa) and cheaper ones (Holzer, Brandon Montour, and Josh Manson).

    Only Vatanen, Lindholm and Holzer see contracts that go beyond 2017-18 – at least without an extension yet for the likes of Fowler and Manson – so Holzer provides a little bit of certainty.

    Is the $900K a minor overpay, though? Holzer played in 32 games for the Ducks this season after appearing in 29 in 2015-16. His impact has been pretty minimal, generating seven points while averaging 13:31 in ice time per contest (down from 14:45 the previous season).

    Granted he may get more opportunities to show what he’s capable of if the Ducks lose another piece. Then again, at 29, the Ducks likely know what they have.

    2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class to be named Monday; Selanne + who?

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    The 2017 Hockey Hall of Fame class is expected to be announced on Monday, and every indication is that Teemu Selanne will be on the list. Beyond that, well, there are a lot of question marks.

    NHL.com notes that there’s at least a possibility that Selanne will be the only NHL name to be part of this class, which would mark a first since 2010 (when Dino Ciccarelli was the lone addition).

    It’s a nice way to continue what’s been a buffet for hockey fans: the 2017 Stanley Cup Final’s conclusion, the expansion draft and then the 2017 NHL Draft. The HHOF announcements are a nice appetizer before free agency gets, well, frenzied?

    “The Finnish Flash” was also an obvious top choice in last year’s poll to see who should be in the class.

    Now, that doesn’t mean he is the only interesting name.

    For one thing, Daniel Alfredsson will be eligible for the first time, much like Selanne. “Alf” falls in the “Maybe” category with some interesting, debatable other options: Mark Recchi, Dave Andreychuk, Alex Mogilny, Jeremy Roenick, Paul Kariya, Chris Osgood, and more.

    The 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame class included Eric Lindros, Rogie Vachon, Sergei Makarov, and Pat Quinn.