Kelly: As many as eight teams could open next season in Europe
BERLIN -- It looks like the NHL is going for reinforcements in its European invasion.
With four teams in Europe to kick off the 2008-09 regular season this week it's possible that number could double next fall, the head of the National Hockey League's Players' Association, Paul Kelly, said Sunday.
The number of teams taking part in what is now a two-year tradition of starting the regular season in Europe will grow next fall to six teams presumably in three cities and maybe as many as eight teams, Kelly said before the Tampa Bay Lightning faced off against Berlin in an exhibition game Sunday.
The Lightning will play regular-season games against the New York Rangers next Saturday and Sunday while the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins will play two games in Stockholm on the same dates.
A year ago Anaheim and Los Angeles became the first two NHL teams to play regular-season games in Europe when they opened the 2007-08 season in London.
"This isn't a flash in the pan for us," Kelly said.
The union boss said there's been a lot of interest from European centers wanting to host the NHL next year. London would like the NHL back and Belarus officials have expressed interest. Russia, with whom the NHL is warring over the transfer of players and honoring contracts, would like to host the NHL in Moscow, Kelly added.
Kelly also revealed Sunday that the NHL and NHLPA are on the verge of moving forward with concrete plans to reintroduce the World Cup of Hockey to their platter of international events and put the tournament into a regular rotation.
The tournament, ostensibly the offspring of the old Canada Cup best-on-best tournaments that were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, was last played in the fall of 2004 on the eve of the lockout. Before that, though, the tournament was last seen in 1996 when it was first called the World Cup of Hockey and the Americans upset Canada in what is considered one of the most important moments in U.S. hockey history.
The tournament was pushed into the hockey closet when NHLers began taking part in the Nagano Olympics in 1998.
Kelly said there was strong agreement among both league and union officials at a recent meeting in New York that the World Cup of Hockey should be held regularly and that the next tournament could be held as early as the fall of 2011. The plan would be to hold it every four years after that.
Kelly said a final decision on whether to move forward with this plan will have to be made in the six months.
The commonly held belief has been that if the World Cup of Hockey returns to a regular rotation it would be at the expense of the NHL's participation in the Olympics but Kelly insisted NHL players could take part in both without watering down the international product.
The NHL is committed to taking part in the Vancouver Games in 2010 but further participation by NHL players would have to be negotiated into the next collective bargaining agreement. The 2014 Games are in Sochi, Russia, and Kelly acknowledged the relationship between the Russians and the league could have an impact on whether the NHL continues to take part in the Olympics.
Players are very much in support of staying in the Olympics but owners, in general, are against it for a host of reasons not the least of which is the potential of injury to star players.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.