I’ll never forget the drama.

It was October 7th, 2010. I had a column due that afternoon, so I sat on the couch, put the lappy on my lap, and turned on the TV thinking I’d catch some previews for the NHL season kickoff the next night.

But wait – …wait, what’s this? Are they replaying an old game on TV?

Nono. The NHL really kicked things off in style that year, pitting the Carolina Hurricanes vs. the Minnesota Wild in Finland on a Thursday at 9 a.m. PST.

Woooo! The NHL season! HERE. WE. GO.

I assume I missed all the invites to the many tailgate parties fans were undoubtedly throwing?

Honest to god, I remember thinking to myself “If you and a group of smart hockey minds were locked in a conference room and had 24 hours to come up with the worst way to kick off an NHL season, could you do much worse from a national interest standpoint than those two teams in the middle of a mid-week workday, in Scandinavia?” Good luck with that.

I mean, opening day in other sports is a huge deal – football is obviously huge because they play so few games and the amount of American interest is multiplied by 63 trillion. But Opening Day in baseball is a big deal too. It’s a special, romantic day. The ballparks are open! It’s spring! It’s so important I felt the need to capitalize Opening Day. It’s an event.

I don’t know what the NBA does, but my hunch is they don’t lead with the Sacramento vs. Charlotte in Norway at noon EST on a Thursday. Again, call that a hunch.

The NHL stepped their game up last year (Philly/Boston, 7PM EST start on a Thursday), which was nice, but I still hate that when that token “season opener” finished, the follow-up games were overseas and fully lacked energy and general production value. Do they not have lights in those buildings? It’s like watching games in Madison Square Garden.

Now that my meandering rant is out of the way, the point of this post:  THE NHL ISN’T KICKING OFF IN EUROPE NEXT SEASON, hurray!

Oh sure, it’s for all the wrong reasons – with the CBA uncertainty, the NHL and NHLPA couldn’t come to terms on how to deal with potential cancellation costs if talks go sour (cringe).

Chris Johnston of The Globe and Mail was at the GM meetings in Florida yesterday, and wrote exactly that:

To date, there have been no formal bargaining talks between the league and NHL Players’ Association.

However, the sides were in contact about the status of the premiere games for next season. The league was willing to schedule them, but an agreement couldn’t be reached with the NHLPA over how cancellation costs would be handled in the event of a work stoppage, according to two sources.

Good, great, perfect, no yelling on the bus. I could care less why the games don’t happen over there, just that they don’t.

Before I elaborate further, let me stop being a jerk for a second: this ”no games in Europe” stance comes purely from a selfish standpoint, and I’m aware of that. I feel for the many NHL fans in Europe who don’t get their usual games (which have been happening since 2007), and I do think those fans do deserve to see live NHL hockey. But again, selfishly, my preference would be to have things start with a bang on this side of the pond.

Beyond that, the player in me can’t imagine kicking off an 82-game winter-season grind with a 12 hour-plus flight, a couple games in random, neutral buildings, a 12 hour-plus flight home, then getting into the rest of the schedule. That’s like saying “Oh, you’re running a marathon – let’s just do a quick Wingate test before you start.”

Not to mention the fact that after those trips, we constantly hear about how the teams that went overseas fared afterwards. I’d call that annoying, if the stats weren’t so glaring – these teams clearly start behind the 8-ball. From an edition of “Pizzo’s Points” earlier this season:

Since 2007, sixteen teams have had to fly overseas to start the regular season.

In their first game back on North American soil, they are a combined 4-12.

For some people jet lag takes a while to get over, so let’s expand the search. When we look at the first three games back from overseas, those teams are a combined 18-30 for a stellar 37% winning percentage.

Some teams had even tougher starts to the season…

2007 Kings- Lost the first 5 games back

2009 Panthers- Lost 7 of their first 8

2010 Coyotes- Lost 5 of their first 6

Half of the teams didn’t make the playoffs. Two of those teams (’09 Blues & ’10 Hurricanes) missed the postseason by just 5 points or less.

So sure. It seems like it is, at the very least, a minor disadvantage.

In sum, I’m pumped about this. I probably shouldn’t be, given that it’s only happening because of CBA uncertainty (which you’ll be reading very little about on this site, because fans don’t deserve a daily frying pan across the skull), but whatever, beggars can’t be choosers.

I’d like to see the NHL season kick off in a big way. I’d like to see every team in the NHL play, I’d like to see rivalry games…maybe we do an all-day affair on a Saturday where we can make a big deal out of it?

Whatever they choose, it has to be better than 2010-2011, which set the bar at knee-height. When the season starts next year – and it will start next year – I’m hoping the League finds a way to make Opening Day worthy of capital letters.

Comments (10)

  1. This makes me sad. Giving a little back to the fans who stay up all night on weekends and sacrifice more than most to follow the NHL is how these games should be viewed.

    I get that opening the season over here takes some of the opening night thing away but I think that is a small concession in the great scheme of things.

    As for effecting performance, look at the NFL teams that have come over every year, super bowl winners in the same season more than once (yes way less games in a season but still…)

  2. the best opening day I can remember was after the lockout. 15 games, every team playing, rivalry games. TSN and CBC going full force so you can watch parts of 4 games. Then the highlight shows go all out. It was great and they should do that every year.

  3. I’m not sure if this would work for anyone, but how about a post-season club tournament, that replaces the world championships (which, in turn, would be replaced with a world cup of hockey every 4 years).

    Take some/all of the 14 teams that missed the playoffs and send them overseas, combined with a bunch of European teams and play a knockout tournament. Obviously the NHL teams lose home ice advantage, but they can play in semi-neutral venues where they’ll get the support (so, for example, an NHL team wouldn’t play a “home” game against a Russian team in Russia, but could play that same team in, say, Finland).
    I don’t know exactly how it could work in terms of format, and I know the NHLPA would probably be against it, but I figure it could give the fans of non-playoff teams something to look forward to, a potential international trophy that could eventually be seen as 3rd best (behind Lord Stanley and Olympic Gold – 4th if the world cup is brought back).

    • It’s a good idea but I’d rather go with an actual Champions League. You send all 4 conference finalists to participate (mandatory…that’s what you get for being good). The games would replace their normal preseason games rather than cut in to the season (which would solve the boring opening day problem). The NHL could pay the players a bonus for playing which would take care of the union issues. If it hurts the teams jet lag wise the first week or so back who cares, they were the best 4 teams. It’s called parity.

  4. I’m not upset at this decision, but you failed to point out that the last three Stanley Cup teams played in the NHL Premier.

  5. As a European hockey fan, I’m disappointed that the NHL won’t make it back this year.

    For the teams, I can understand the jet lag being pretty horrible. I saw San Jose/Columbus in 2010 and from what I read San Jose flew home after the 2nd game. That was a 15 hour flight for them.

    For the fans, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I went to a game in Sweden and tickets were around $200 for basic tickets. Pretty steep when compared to Elitserien tickets. Plus the game wasn’t blacked out so people could watch it on local TV for free.

    A better solution would perhaps be to play exhibition games in Europe, so as not to affect the standings.

    Also, a few years back a couple of AHL teams (Marlies / Bulldogs) came to Scotland to play in a small Spengler-style tournament. I’d be happy to see more of that as AHL hockey is far, far better than the British Elite League.

  6. I don’t really care about the European premiere, but you moaning about a 9 am game hit a nerve. Where I live, NHL games usually start between 1 am and 3.30 am. You are the last person who should complain about inconvenient game times.

  7. There are so many European players and the games are played literally in the MIDDLE of the night (here in Sweden east coast games start at about 1 AM, west coast games at 4 AM).

    If you grew up watching the NHL and tried to sit in a bar drinking $10 beers watching Elitserien the philanthropist in you would trade half your Islanders games to me, Justin.

  8. European premier was marketing idea, bad one. Unfair for teams who had to make the trip while the game schedule doesn’t allow time for jet lag recovery. Annoying for NA-based fans, especially for fans of those traveling teams.

    Better idea to increase visibility of NHL in Europe would have been some type of pre-season tournament (NOT training tournament for new guys but actual tournament with all the stars of those teams playing there too).

    Now this makes lot of european fans angry, because first they (the wise NHL marketing guys) wanted us to get excited about NHL-premiere being played here. Now that we learned to wait for those games, they take them away.

    Will be interesting what the next idea is. Pre-season tournament would now feel a bit like consolation prize.

  9. Ah, thanks.

    Life as a Dutch hockey fan is hard. Hockey is almost non-existent here: everything is soccer, soccer and some occasional field hockey or speed-skating. The only way we could get our proper hockey fix (without having to learn russian) is to stay up until 2 at nights and maybe catch a hockey game on “ESPN America” (often not even knowing beforehand which teams they will be showing that night), watch the game, sleep 3 hours, wake up, go back to your everyday life. You would be tired the next day, but what the hell: you saw the Florida Panthers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets that night AND YOU WOULD BE SATISFIED DAMNIT.

    Every year me and my little brother would go see one NHL-premiere game, ONE SINGLE GAME per season of live NHL hockey. We would drive from Breda to Prague, Stockholm or Berlin just to see two random teams square off against each other, buy some way too expensive merch and we would both be ecstatic for weeks to come.

    But hey, we’re sorry for ruining your Opening Night with our arenas lit by candlelight and torches.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *