Sunday, January 27, 2008

Don’t book those plane tickets just yet...

"We're not going to just be a rubber stamp”, oops Mr. Bettman clean up in aisle four…

Gary Bettman’s grand pronouncement that the NHL is set to showcase its product in Europe again this fall, ran into a bit of labour turbulence on Saturday.

Paul Kelly, the new Executive Director of the NHLPA must have been weary of clearing his phone messages after Mr. Bettman announced that the league had scheduled games in Sweden, Switzerland and the Czech Republic in early October of this year. For Mr. Kelly the message counter provided requests from the rank and file about when they had signed on the dotted line for such an interesting idea.

As it turns out they hadn’t yet, Mr. Bettman anxious to make hay in the field of All Star opportunity, jumped the gun a bit with his announcement. Giving the NHLPA head the opportunity to do what labour leaders have done and poke management in the eye a bit.

In the first skirmish between the two sides since Kelly took over the association, he took time out on Saturday to remind the NHL that while the NHLPA welcomes the opportunity to grow the game and explore Europe, nothing has been agreed to yet and they don’t appreciate the pressure that such an announcement provides.

Bettman drew up a schedule which if eventually signed off by the NHLPA, will see the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins play in Stockholm on October 4 and 5, while the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning would play the same two days in Prague, the Rangers will also earn a few extra air miles with a side trip to Switzerland and a match called the Victoria Cup challenge which will see the Rangers play the European Super league champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk. The Rangers would also sneak in a game with SC Bern while in the Swiss city.

It seems more than likely that the NHLPA will eventually provide their blessing for the European adventure, but not before they remind Mr. Bettman that there is still a fair bit of desire for a more informative process to take place.

By the end of Saturday, the NHL was admitting that perhaps bit of mis-communication had taken place, hoping no doubt to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the weekend.

With much talk these days of a new European league being formed with significant financial backing, this may be a way for the NHL to stake a claim to the growing thirst for hockey in Europe. Perhaps it was with that in mind that the NHL jumped the gun on the key ingredient to any NHL showcase, the actual players on the ice.

As for the international hockey announcements, IIHF President Rene Faisal seems to have taken the event a little higher than perhaps they deserve. Especially in the planned Victoria Cup, for which he said: “the first time we will have a summit meeting, a one-off final, for a trophy which we hope will be part of the annual international calendar for years to come.”

It’s pretty heady stuff for an exhibition game that with the Rangers most likely won’t be featuring the NHL Stanley Cup Champions for 2007-08 and maybe not even the European league champion for 2008.

Now, if you want drama and excitement, set up a series between the NHL champ and the European champ and then let the rhetoric flow and the bombast begin, though we suspect there is little chance of that happening any time soon.

While the NHL may want to check out the lay of the land in Europe they are in no hurry to diminish the pinnacle of their regular season the Stanley Cup. Not to mention reduce the number of games in North America to make such a showdown possible.

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