SUN Hockey Pool

Open season for NHL critics

ERIN NICKS

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

You have to wonder if the NHL secretly enjoys providing copious amounts of ammunition for the naysayers to employ.

Perhaps they subscribe to the belief that any press is good press.

Those critics in question are bound to have a field day when the NHL regular season rolls around at the end of this month -- in England -- before the pre-season concludes.

Two games featuring Western Conference teams will be played in London on Sept. 29 and 30.

In a feeble attempt to cling to its slipping status as a "big four sport," the NHL is aiming for the same type of globalization sought (and achieved to varying degrees) by the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

All leagues have seen interest grow in countries outside North America and for some it's due to the infiltration of athletes from other nations into these leagues.

Major League Baseball has a stable of stars from Puerto Rico and Japan.

The NBA features players from Serbia, Germany and France.

And the NHL covers the gamut in Europe.

But there's a major difference between the three other leagues and the NHL. The NFL, MLB and NBA all possess stable footing within the U.S. Their television deals are substantial because fans are willing to watch their games (on networks that are readily available), and they don't have to fight for coverage of any type on the nightly sports highlight shows.

When you're perpetually battling to have your league maintain some semblance of importance in the U.S. -- the country where 80% of your franchises are located -- does it really make sense to go after a European market (in the U.K. of all places)?

Hockey isn't as rare in England as you might think. The English Ice Hockey Association was established in 1982, and according to its website, the league has grown from 60 to 298 teams (19 classified as elite) since its inception.

That being said, England isn't a known participant in any of the truly significant international hockey competitions and produces NHL players in extremely sparse amounts (most recently, Steve Thomas and Byron Dafoe were noted league players born in England).

If anything, you'd think the NHL would wish to play a game in a country with a legitimate zeal for the sport, such as Sweden or Finland.

And if it were a matter of stepping on the toes of the elite leagues overseas, one would assume some sort of compromise could be reached to ensure that all parties remained content.

The entire idea is utterly bizarre, but it enters a new level of head scratching when you consider the two teams picked for these monumental games: The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks are somewhat understandable coming off a Stanley Cup championship.

Sending the Kings, however, is quite the puzzler.

Fans of the respective teams will claim a rivalry exists, but it's laced with a SoCal laissez-faire attitude that makes the Leafs-Senators animosities appear as if they use Kingston as a DMZ.

And doesn't the NHL like to utilize situations such as these to educate potential fans about the league's history? Couldn't they have sent at least one Original Six team as opposed to two from California?

It's difficult to venture a guess as to what the NHL hopes to achieve out of this unexpected overseas experiment.

If the arena is packed and lively for both nights, does it really make a difference in the grand scheme of things?

One would assume not.

After all, you're not going to sell your desperately required audience on games played across the pond if you can't even get them to pay attention to the ones being staged in their own backyard.


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