Neutral Site Musings

The Detroit News’ Chris McCosky is of the opinion that games in Europe don’t make sense for the NHL.

The worst thing about starting the season over here is that so few in North America know or even care about it.

Wings goalie Chris Osgood said he got a call from his friend, Lions center Dominic Raiola, on Wednesday and Raiola, a big sports fan, didn’t even know the Wings were in Sweden.

This trip hasn’t generated any buzz about the start of a new season where it matters most — in the NHL’s primary markets.

I’m not sure I agree that starting in Europe is detrimental to the league but I definitely agree that there is little to no buzz about these games around here.

Back when these games were announced, I briefly mentioned that I don’t like any “event” game that the Wings’ home fanbase is excluded from. The NHL should be taking care of it’s every day fans first and foremost. Yes, it’s fantastic that all of these Swedish fans will finally see the Red Wings live and yes it’s great that the Swedish Wings will get to play at home but it’s also a bit of an insult to those of us back home who have to scramble to try to catch a game in the middle of a weekday afternoon. It’s a small thing overall but the NHL shouldn’t act like they’re in a position where they can do that.

Here’s what the NHL should do instead: At the start of each season, pick a destination city in North America — Las Vegas, New York, Miami, Toronto, Vancouver, wherever — and invite the final four teams from the previous year and stage an NHL showcase. Each team gets two regular-season games and you can pair them off any way you want — East runners-up vs. West runners-up, rematch of the conference championships, whatever.

I do agree with McCosky’s suggestion of neutral site games in North America but I would implement it differently. I would bring back elements of the 1992-93 and 1993-94 schedules. The league goes to 84 games and each team plays two neutral site games. The difference being that each season one city is selected to host every neutral site game.

This would be a great way to test how receptive a market is to the NHL product. A normal season sees a team play 41 regular season home games and this would give the neutral site 30 games, nearly a full season.

Admittedly it’s not perfect. There are some people who will always be fans of the home team rather than the NHL product and wouldn’t be interested in a series of neutral site games in their local arena. I just think it’s a better option than trying to “grow” the game in cities like Phoenix by putting a team there when that team would be better suited in Toronto.

Red Wings Open Season Today in Stockholm

The Red Wings begin the 2009-2010 season today in Stockholm, Sweden, taking on the St. Louis Blues in the first game of a neutral site home-and-home series between the two teams.

Excluding last year’s Winter Classic, this is Detroit’s first neutral site game since they picked up a 3-0 win over the Hartford Whalers in Cleveland on February 24, 1994. In all the Red Wings are 8-2-3 in games played outside the home team’s city (including one Chicago “home” game played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, also played on February 24, this time in 1929).

The Chris McCosky of the Detroit News reported this morning that Derek Meech and Patrick Eaves will be the healthy scratches today for the Red Wings. This means the fourth line will be Justin Abdelkader, Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.

After missing Wednesday’s exhibition against Farjestads BK with the flu, Chris Osgood is scheduled to start in net.

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