Swedish Crickets?

It looks like talk about the NHL Premiere games not generating any buzz may be true.

I don’t claim to have my ear to every news source in Detroit at all times, but I’m shocked at how few reports on the Wings’ two games in Stockholm came across my RSS reader this weekend. Yeah, there are the usual blog posts balancing overreaction with panic (I’ll get to that in a minute) but mainstream media coverage of what is supposed to be a major event has been minimal.

Me? I have an excuse, I was working all weekend. That’s why I didn’t get my thoughts together until midway throught Monday. The mainstream media gets paid for this, I can only take their silence to mean that no one cared about these games.

As for whether or not to panic based on what happened on Friday and Saturday, I’m not ready to give up just two games into the season.

What those games reminded me of were back-to-back games in Calgary and Edmonton late in November on a Western Canada road trip. The Red Wings always play horribly in those games and they’re scheduled every year. The fact that those kind of games came at the start of the season against the St. Louis Blues is the only difference.

Yes, the number of turnovers and the five power play goals against are things to be concerned about. There are 80 more games to work that out.

Yes, Jimmy Howard as the backup is still a concern. But there’s absolutely nothing that can be done for that aside from signing Dan Cloutier or bringing up Daniel Larsson, both of which would require Howard to be abandoned after the team spent five years developing him. It’s not gonna happen right now.

The losses were not a matter of needing more grit or any other change to the lineup. They were an issue of consistency. Every line had moments where they played well. They also had giveaways and goals against. We’ll see if those even out as the season continues.

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 to Open 2009-10 Season in Sweden

The National Hockey League officially announced today that the Detroit Red Wings will open the 2009-10 regular season in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Red Wings will face the St. Louis Blues in a pair of games at Ericsson Globe Arena on October 2 and 3.

Stockholm hosted two matches between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators last fall. Prague, Czech Republic, hosted the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lighting. In 2007 the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks met in London.

Helsinki, Finland, will host it’s first NHL Premiere event as the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers will meet there on the same dates.

“The NHL Premiere games are a signature event for the League, our players and our fans,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Playing regular-season games overseas is an excellent way to further engage the passionate NHL fan base in Europe and encourage the growth of the game of hockey.”

“We’ve got a great fan base over there and it would be wonderful to play there,” Swede Henrik Zetterberg said. “The Cup was almost two weeks in Sweden, so Red Wings are big in Sweden, so I think they will be really happy if we can come there.”

“It’s something I’m really excited about and looking forward to,” Wings’ captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “Same with my teammates, too, they’re all looking forward to it, too, to get a chance to play overseas. I was hoping it was going to happen sooner or later, and I’m happy about the opportunity to play back home.”