Inter-League Game Could Spell Bad News for NHL

September 24, 2009

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Jeff Ponder

Inter-League Game Could Spell Bad News for NHL

Could an exhibition game really give bad publicity to a major North-American sports league?

The NHL has constantly been trying to show that their league is the best to the public all over the world.  For the past few seasons, the league has sent four of their teams overseas to play in places such as Germany, Sweden and England.  The teams usually open the NHL regular season a week early, playing two games in the country that they were designated.  This season the league has decided to send the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings to Sweden, and the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers to Finland.  Not only are these teams playing each other, but they will see time against some of the best teams of the chosen nation in pre-season play.

Why is this a possible threat to the league?  The NHL holds themselves as the greatest hockey league in the world with the most powerful teams and the best players.  There is almost no way of disputing that prestigious honor as long as the teams are playing against each other all the time and do not allow any outside teams to jeopardize that point.  Allowing other teams from other leagues could harm the reputation of the NHL. 

Here is the schedule for the games that will be played against other league teams:

Tuesday, September 29:  St. Louis Blues vs. Linkoping HC at Cloetta Center

Tuesday, September 29:  Chicago Blackhawks vs. ZSC Lions Zurich at Hallenstadion

Wednesday, September 30:  Florida Panthers vs. Jokerit Helsinki at Hartwall Arena

Wednesday, September 30:  Detroit Red Wings vs. Farjestads BK Karlstad at Lofbergs Lila Arena

The Detroit Red Wings were the Western Conference Champions in the 2009 NHL playoffs, so they truly are some of the best talent in the NHL.  The Chicago Blackhawks are no different, as they fell to the Red Wings in the Conference Finals valiantly.  They will hopefully fight for the NHL with a heavy heart and a strong will to win, but what about the Blues and Panthers? 

The Blues finished 2008-09 with the best of them, coming all the way from dead last in the West to sixth in a matter of  four months.  But they still have a lot to prove after being ousted from the playoffs in four straight games in the first round to the Vancouver Canucks.  Rookie standouts T.J. Oshie and Patrik Berglund were nowhere to be seen in the post-season.  They both combined for 0 points and 9 shots on goal in the four games.  Putting two young prospects on an international stage such as this cannot be good for their development speed.

The Blues also will be having many players returning from injury, which in all actuality may hurt them more than help them in this inter-league match.  They will have training camp and five pre-season games to get back in their groove, but quick recovery cannot be expected.  Both Paul Kariya and Erik Johnson will have to be ready for action if they are to beat this hungry Swedish squad.

The only way most Canadians and Americans most likely know of Linkoping HC is through NHL 2010.  But this team has a reputation of being a fast-paced product with a lot of team chemistry.  Finishing second in the Elitserien League, they put up an amazing 92 points in their 55-game season in 2008-09.  Jaroslav Hlinka, a 16-season professional ice hockey veteran, enjoyed a great season with Linkoping HC last season, registering 55 points in 54 games played.  He has been widely known throughout his career as a professional set-up man rather than a goal scorer, but always seems to find that sweet spot on the ice to assist on the big goal for his club.

The other match may make NHL fans cringe as well.

The Panthers missed the 2009 NHL playoffs on a tie-breaker with the Montreal Canadiens, scoring just 16 goals less than the Canadian team, placing them in ninth place.  If being a non-playoff team is not disheartening enough for NHL fans, they also lost their number one defenseman to free-agency, Jay Bouwmeester.  The club has struggled to find the playoffs throughout their existence, seeping in only 3 times since their inaugural season in 1993.  With all of this negativity surrounding the Panthers, can they find a way to beat  Jokerit Helsinki on international ice?

Do not be fooled by their name NHL followers; Jokerit Helsinki is a serious club.  In one of the toughest European Leagues around, the Finland SM-Liiga displays some of the best talent in Europe.  Jokerit was able to finish 2008-09 with 98 points in 58 games in 2008-09, finishing fourth in the entire league.  Being one of the best well-rounded teams in the league, they saw great goaltending from starter Juuso Riksman.  The 6'1” 190 lb. net-minder amassed a dazzling 1.76 GAA and a .944 save percentage in 45 games played.  He has played 1 game for the AHL's Peoria Rivermen in the past, seeing just eight minutes and giving up 2 goals on 4 shots.  So if he starts against the Panthers, he may be flustered early so the Panthers will need to take many shots.

NHL teams had better be prepared for these meetings.  While the North-American clubs are looking at these matches as exhibition trials, the other teams have something to prove.  The Elitserien and FNL will not be sending out their fourth-liners all game like they would in any other pre-season match-up.  They will want to take it to the NHL clubs all game long.  They have got to be ready for the challenge, otherwise the NHL's authority will be in peril.

Keywords: elitserien, erik johnson, Farjestads BK Karlstad, Finland SM-liiga, fnl, Jaroslav Hlinka, jay bouwmeester, Jokerit Helsinki, Juuso Riksman, Linkoping HC, nhl, patrik berglund, paul kariya, st. louis blues, t.j. oshie, ZSC Lions Zurich

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