Source: European openers to go on

Updated: January 17, 2009, 5:53 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

The NHL will continue to send teams to Europe to kick off its regular season, and the world's best players will meet in the 2011 World Cup of Hockey now that the league and players' association have reached a compromise on how revenues from those international efforts will be divvied up, ESPN.com has learned.

Those international events -- important to the league's efforts to increase a worldwide presence and generate revenue -- were in jeopardy because the two sides could not agree on how the players' union was going to be able to use the money it receives for taking part.

A handshake agreement between the two sides has been reached, however, and barring some dramatic turn of events, the NHL will send six teams to three European cities to kick off the 2009-10 season. That number will grow to eight teams the following season, a source close to the situation told ESPN.com on Saturday.

It's believed that St. Louis and Detroit are among the candidates heading to Europe next fall, with Detroit likely playing in Sweden based on the large number of Swedes in its lineup.

The Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks are being considered, as well.

Berlin and Prague, Czech Republic, have been mentioned as possible sites. Helsinki, Finland, which has not hosted the NHL yet, also likely will be on the list.

The NHL began its European invasion in fall 2007 when the Anaheim Ducks played the Los Angeles Kings in London.

In September, the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers opened their regular season in Prague, and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators opened with two games in Stockholm, Sweden.

"We're moving in the right direction towards being able to pull these games off, but it's not a done deal," a league source told ESPN.com Saturday.

The games have been sold out and enthusiastically received by European fans and promoters. Although the travel and scheduling has created some headaches, the events have been considered important by the league and the players, who share the revenues generated.

The agreement is significant because it marks the first major confrontation between the NHL and the NHLPA under new union head Paul Kelly. Kelly took over from Ted Saskin, who was ousted by the players following the end of the lockout that scuttled the 2004-05 season.

To reach the deal, the two sides had to open the current collective bargaining agreement to make the changes to wording governing international play.

Under the old deal, the union -- which receives half the revenues generated by international events -- was required to put all of that money into its pension fund. Now it will be able to allocate that money to other programs, provided the membership is in agreement.

Although the money collected from the regular-season games isn't significant -- the union actually ended up losing money thanks to some airline issues last fall -- the key in this agreement is the World Cup of Hockey.

Without the changes, the future of European NHL games and the future World Cup of Hockey events would have been imperiled.

The first World Cup of Hockey -- formerly known as the Canada Cup -- was held in 1996 and was won by the United States in a wildly successful event. The next World Cup of Hockey wasn't held until 2004, and it was played on the eve of the lockout, with a certain pall hanging over the proceedings. Games in the United States weren't well-received.

The union, however, wants to re-establish the event on the world hockey schedule. There is speculation that the 2010 Vancouver Olympics will be the last in which NHL players will compete. If that's the case, the World Cup of Hockey would become the only true tournament featuring the best in the world.

Even if NHL players remain involved with the Olympics beyond Vancouver, the belief is that the World Cup of Hockey would be a nice bridge between Winter Olympics.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com. ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun contributed to this story.