NHL considering dozen European cities as potential sites
NEW YORK -- The National Hockey League is considering a dozen European cities as potential hosts for regular-season games but may not send players to the 2014 Olympics in Russia, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.
Bettman told Reuters that while European interest would probably lead to more NHL games staged overseas, the premier professional ice hockey league might rethink its policy of shutting down in mid-season so players can compete in the Olympics.
"Our experience in London was terrific," Bettman told Reuters on Tuesday about the NHL's season-opening games this year between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.
"There are rumors rampant that we might go to Prague or Stockholm next," Bettman said at the Reuters Media Summit. "We're looking at the options.
"I could envision at a point in time in the future to maybe go to a dozen different cities over time. There are lots of hockey markets with tremendously avid fans throughout Europe."
Bettman mentioned Moscow, St. Petersburg, Helsinki and various German cities among the possibilities.
While the door could be opening to more NHL action in Europe, Bettman said it might stop players competing in the 2014 Sochi Games given the stress of a mid-season interruption and diminishing impact of a Games far from North America.
"It is a strain. It is a strain on the players, on the schedule and on our fans here." Bettman said.
"It has an impact on the momentum of the season and the benefits we get tend to be greater when the Olympics are in North America than when they're in distant time zones."
The NHL first allowed players to compete in the 1998 Nagano Games, and participated in the ensuing Salt Lake City and Turin Olympics. It will also cooperate for the 2010 Vancouver Games.
"Vancouver was an easy call because we're going to play the games in Canada. Salt Lake City was an easy call. Japan and Italy might not have given us in terms of focus and attention and impact what we may have hoped from taking a 17-day break.
"I think after Vancouver we'll have to take a deep breath, debrief and make sure that when we balance the pros and cons from going to the Olympics, the pros exceed the cons if we're going to do it again," the commissioner said.
Bettman said that while players are keen to compete for their native countries, he did not believe they would give up their NHL ties in order to go for Olympic gold.
"The best players in the world want to play in the NHL because that's where the best hockey is played," he said.
He said he was not worried about possible defections, even among top Russian players who might be particularly motivated to play for Olympic gold before home crowds in Sochi.
"I'm not so sure that for two weeks once every four years somebody who's a great hockey player is going to give up the opportunity to play in the NHL," Bettman said.