Since the 2007-08 season, the Flyers have managed to dodge the NHL assignment to start the regular season in Europe. And luckily for them, they did it once more. The 2009-10 season will open with four NHL teams in Europe, two playing in Stockholm, Sweden and other two meet in Helsinki, Finland on Friday, Oct 2 and Saturday, Oct 3.
The Detroit Red Wings will take on the St. Louis Blues in Sweden and the Chicago Blackhawks will challenge the Florida Panthers in Finland.
To start the season in Europe means the NHL teams will begin their long schedule much earlier than teams back in North America. It also means each team will waste a home game in a foreign arena, not to mention the countless number of exhibition games to prepare for the season opener. The changes may not seem like much initially, but the result of the strange beginning could be in the statistics.
Of the four teams who started the season in Europe in 2008-09, (New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins) three of them have fired their coaches and Rangers’ coach Tom Renney is on the hot seat.
The four teams have a combined winning percentage of .505% and have an average of 57.5 points, with only the Rangers in (fleeting) playoff position as of Feb. 18.
In 2007-08, the Rangers, Penguins and Senators were all playoff teams.
Although the Flyers were fortunate enough to miss the European trip this season, their turn to travel is still waiting in the wings. Commissioner Gary Bettman has made it clear that every team in the NHL will play in a European opener at some point.
“The NHL Premiere games are a signature event for the League, our players and our fans,” said Bettman. “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.”
But while Bettman is engaging the luke-warm fan base in Europe, it is the North American fan base that ultimately pays the price, while their team’s flounder down the stretch.