The National Hockey League season is on the brink, but Canada's two major sports TV networks aren't yet jumping over the boards to show games from Europe.
Rogers Sportsnet and TSN remain leery of the concept, even though the number of NHLers heading overseas is now about 250 and climbing.
"We have first rights on a deal for games in Sweden, but we'll wait to see how things look in the new year," said Scott Morrison, managing editor of news and hockey for Rogers Sportsnet. "Some big names such as Mats Sundin have yet to go over, but nothing is a substitute for the NHL."
TSN president Phil King questioned whether the time and expense of building a show around such an unfamiliar product would be worth it.
"You have to wonder about fan interest," King said. "Just because you know two or three NHLers on one team still means there are about 20 that you don't. I don't know if any Canadian newspapers are going to write about the games. (Viewers) here have to care about who wins."
About a third of the NHL's 750 players have now roasted in Europe. AK Bars Kazan of Russia has signed 11, including Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier and Nikolai Khabibulin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers and Alexei Morozov of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But star power can't carry the whole package.
"We did one of Hayley Wickenheiser's (Finnish men's league) games from over there and we weren't satisfied with the production quality, even though we had to jump through hoops to set it up," King said. "So as of now, we're not exploring it, though we reserve the right to revisit it in the new year."
Both networks could have a problem finding a place for European games. Sportsnet has American Hockey League games, the Canadian Russian junior tour and other events, while TSN can't commit to anything until mid-January after it concludes its signature holiday event, the world junior hockey championship. Until then, it has lots of college football, Canadian university hockey and other local sports on tap.
If the decision is made to try Europe, Morrison thinks a tape-delayed game in prime time is the likely format, though King didn't rule out a live broadcast in the early afternoon. But both executives said it would be difficult to work out on-site English language announcers versus calling the game from a Canadian studio.
"I don't know if there's a Swedish version of Foster Hewitt," Morrison said with a laugh.
The CBC is not likely to pick up any of next month's International Management Group tournament, not wishing to stray from its Saturday movie package that has replaced Hockey Night In Canada.