Players understand NHL Premiere games in Europe are business… and pleasure

The NHL Premiere in Europe is a nice novelty to start the season for fans and players alike. But now that the idea of starting seasons in Europe has been around for a few years, there are players who have already experienced the novelty and are going back for second and third trips as part of the NHL’s European showcase. It’s great to see new cities and experience different cultures—but at the end of the day, there are important points on the line for teams that will desperately need wins later in the season.

Members of both the Kings and the Ducks have experienced what it’s like to start the season in Europe. Both teams kicked off the season yesterday—both play their second game of back-to-back situations this afternoon. Even though the two teams had very different results yesterday, they both learned lessons from their trip to London to start the 2007-08 season.

Kings’ captain Dustin Brown traveled with the team in September of 2007 and says that the team learned what not to do this time around. Judging by their 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers to start the season, they must be doing something right.

“We went over there really early and we were over there for a long time which I don’t know necessarily helped,” Brown said. “And then having days off [the ice] helped. We’re on the ice a lot as it is, you travel a lot getting over there and maybe having a day, We have one scheduled, I think is a good idea. Because after all that travel, you might get more out of a day off than you would getting on the ice for an hour. It kind of refreshes the mind and the body.”

But it’s not all negative lessons for the guys who have been over there. Ducks star Teemu Selanne played in the games in London as well and saw team chemistry built with the long trip to start the season. Despite the Ducks’ 4-1 loss to start the season, he thinks the team can make the most of the trip this time as well.

From Selanne: “I really believe that’s going to be really good for our team to start the season right away, with hanging around together for four or five days before the first game and get the team feeling again. I think that’s going to be very important process for us.”

For teams like the Kings and the Ducks, the hardest part of the entire trip is the time change. From Anaheim to Helsinki, it’s a nine hour time difference. There are eight time zones that separate Los Angeles from Stockholm. NHL players are very set in their routines and they’re playing games when their bodies still think its 10:00am. Brown explained that no matter how many times you do it, it’s still difficult to get the body to adjust.

“It’s an eight/nine hour time change.” Brown shared. “And that’s the hard part right, the battle, right there. The travel is hard, but when you’re in a three time zone range, you can get by. This is [different]. I’ve done it one time before in the NHL—I’ve done it numerous times with the World Juniors and World Championships—but it’s a matter of just trying to get on a schedule as soon as you can. You’re only over there for five or six days so it’s tough.”

Kings defenseman Matt Greene shared Brown’s thoughts about the travel:

“The time change messes you up a little bit, but they did a good job of scheduling though.” Greene said. “It’s pretty spaced out. It’s going to be road games. That’s it. That’s how we have to approach it. Just go with that and get some wins… I don’t think we’ll have too much off time.”

That can be easier said than done. Of course it’s important to think of the games in Europe as everyday road games, but the fact remains that these players are in different countries—for some, it’s the first time experiencing Europe and its different cultures.

Rob Scuderi understands the perfect mix of business and pleasure. The stay-at-home defenseman traveled to Stockholm as a member of the Penguins—a team that ended up winning the Cup.

“We’re over there to play hockey and win some hockey games,” Scuderi said. “But at the same time, you can’t turn a blind eye to try to enjoy it at the same time.”

The games are important—four points in the standings can mean the difference between home-ice advantage and missing the playoffs completely in the Western Conference. Scuderi’s fellow Kings defenseman Greene agrees.

“You just get yourself ready,” Greene told Pro Hockey Talk. “You’re going to be on the road for two weeks. We’ve done that a few times with the travel and everything. We just gotta be ready. We’ll be gone for a while, but we’re only playing a few games. We’re only playing four regular season games. We just gotta make sure we get up for all of those and be ready because those are big points. In the West, it’s always tight. We have to make sure we get these points right away.”

Understanding the different routine changes each player is dealing with is something to watch for as you watch the NHL Premiere games unfold from Europe. The lessons that the Kings and Ducks learned in London should give them an advantage—or at least negate the daunting time zone disadvantage.

Regardless, these are experiences that the players will keep with them for the rest of their lives. And from a professional standpoint, the team bonding – and the points – are things the teams will keep with them throughout the season.

Goalie nods: Dell starts for Sharks, his sixth in the last 12 games

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There was a plan in San Jose to try and give first-year backup Aaron Dell some additional playing time down the stretch.

And the Sharks certainly are executing.

Dell, who has basically split starts with No. 1 Martin Jones this month, will get the call tonight when San Jose takes on the Stars in Dallas. He’s certainly earned the call — in five starts in March, he’s going 3-2-0 with a .941 save percentage, and has allowed a grand total of eight goals.

While there’s no goalie controversy at play — Jones is the unquestioned starter — this development has to have provided some relief for Peter DeBoer and company. Dell is a 27-year-old minor league journeyman that made his NHL debut this year, but played sparingly behind Jones for the most part.

Now, he looks like a guy the club can rely on should Jones struggle, or get hurt. Dell’s posted terrific numbers overall — 10-5-1 record, .936 save percentage, 1.85 GAA — and could see even more action over the final eight games of the regular season.

No word yet on who starts for Dallas. Kari Lehtonen played in last night’s shootout loss to Chicago, so logic would suggest it’s Antti Niemi.

Elsewhere…

— As we wrote about earlier, Jaroslav Halak makes his first NHL start in 85 days as the Isles visit Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury is in for the Pens.

Petr Mrazek gets the call as the Red Wings host the Lightning. No word yet on a Bolts starter, though Andrei Vasilevskiy would seem likely given Peter Budaj played against (and beat) Boston last night.

— The red-hot Jonathan Bernier gets another start as the Ducks play host to the Jets. No word yet on a Winnipeg starter, but Connor Hellebuyck did play last night against L.A.

Pre-game reading: Bettman insists NHL isn’t ‘anti-Olympics’

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— Up top, members of the Detroit Red Wings and their fans recall some of their fondest memories from Joe Louis Arena, which will host its last NHL game on Apr. 9.

— Here’s NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking Friday in Chicago: “The league isn’t anti-Olympics. The problem is, the clubs are anti-disruption to the season. To disappear for almost three weeks in February when there is no football and baseball and it’s only basketball and … there’s no programming for the NHL Network, for NHL.com (and) all of our social media platforms. … If somebody proposes something dramatic and radically different that gets the attention of the clubs where they say, ‘You know what? We don’t like going but on balance it’s worth it because of this,’ we’ll have to look at it again. But overwhelmingly the sentiment of the clubs is it’s too disruptive.” (Chicago Tribune)

— The players have said they won’t negotiate with the league for the right to participate in the Olympics. But they’ve made no secret about their desire to go, as evidenced by ESPN’s lengthy list of player quotes on the topic. Said Steven Stamkos: “In talking to a lot of players, I’ve yet to hear someone say they didn’t want to get a chance to represent their country at the Olympics.” (ESPN)

— Whether the NHL continues its Olympic participation or not, it’s clear the league is eyeing China as part of its growth strategy. In September, the Canucks and Kings are expected to play a couple of exhibition games in Beijing and Shanghai. And according to deputy commissioner Bill Daly, there may even come a time when an NHL franchise is owned by Chinese business interests. (The Globe and Mail)

— Are the Bruins on the verge of collapse? CSNNE columnist Joe Haggerty saw some concerning signs in last night’s loss to Tampa Bay — a loss that put the B’s in further danger of falling out of a playoff position. Haggerty concludes: “Their next wrong move will cause a nosedive straight out of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that will spell changes far and wide on Causeway Street for the Boston Bruins.” (CSN New England)

— Islanders rookie Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, is ready for — and even looking forward to — a hostile crowd tonight at PPG Paints Arena. “For me, Pittsburgh is the one city as a whole where I’m totally OK with them hating me. For wearing No. 66. Mario Lemieux is a hero, a pioneer for them there, and for them to take it as disrespect is completely understandable.” (Newsday)

Enjoy the games!

PS — Lemieux said he was “fine” with Ho-Sang wearing his old number.

In prepping Vegas for draft, McPhee cites ‘outstanding’ record with Caps

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George McPhee is a veteran of the draft process, having presided over nearly 20 during his time with the Caps.

This year, he’s in a unique position — spearheading the first draft for the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights — and he suggests his past success should set him up well for the future.

“I think we have an outstanding staff,” McPhee said, per the club website. “I think our draft record in my previous job was outstanding.”

Assessments like these are always up for debate — draft success is somewhat subjective, and there are inevitably a bunch of misses among the hits — but McPhee does have a strong history of drafting and developing players, and could point to the current Capitals as validation to his claim.

The active roster has 11 players that were original draftees (Braden Holtby, Philip Grubauer, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom), with goalies Holtby and Grubauer — both fourth-round picks — emerging as pretty good finds.

McPhee’s strategy? Go big or go home.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played it safe going to the draft,” he explained. “I believe in swinging for the fences, and trying to find someone who can be a real difference maker. The difference makers are those core guys on your team, those 4-5 players that become elite players are the ones that can really take you a long way.

“They are hard to find. Those are the ones I’d like to swing for.”

At this year’s draft in Chicago, Vegas should have a shot at landing an impact guy. The club will have the same odds of winning the lottery as the team that finishes with the third fewest points this season and, though it’s considered a weak draft overall, there is some serious talent at the top end.

WHL Brandon’s Nolan Patrick, QMJHKL Halifax’s Nico Hischier and OHL Windsor’s Gabriel Vilardi are all considered high-end prospects and — importantly — all three play center. For a team that’s building from scratch, filling that position is of vital importance.

McPhee acknowledged this is a weaker draft, but contended those are the ones “where the best teams excel.” He theorizes that with fewer quality players available, the strongest teams emerge with the good ones.

He also shared how the Golden Knights plan to land ’em.

“We’re really aggressive,” he said. “We try not to play it safe very often.”

B’s ink prospects Fitzgerald, Johansson to entry-level deals

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Boston has brought a pair of talented youngsters into the fold.

Forward Ryan Fitzgerald, who just wrapped his senior season at Boston College, and defenseman Emil Johansson — who spent this year playing in the Swedish Hockey League — have signed their entry-level deals and will begin playing with the club’s AHL affiliate in Providence.

Fitzgerald — who’s father, Tom, is the assistant GM in New Jersey — scored 31 points in 34 games for BC this year, serving as an alternate captain. He was originally taken by Boston in the fourth round (120th overall) of the ’13 draft.

Johansson, 20, was a seventh-round pick in ’14 that’s panned out pretty well. He scored a career-high seven goals and 17 points in 49 games for Djugardens this year, appearing in three playoff contests.