- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

In a continuing effort to expand the league’s global reach, there were regular-season NHL games in London this season and there will be contests in Prague and Stockholm next year.

So where does this overseas tour go next? Sure there are other hockey-friendly countries like Finland, Slovakia and Germany. But the bold move would be Moscow.

Playing games in Russia could be a boon for the NHL with its re-emerging economy and hockey-mad consumers, but the reality in which such a scenario is possible may not be in the immediate future.

I think that is a little tied in with how our relations develop with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

A quick synopsis of those relations: They are not good. The Russian federation has refused to enter into the league’s transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation. It is a pact that stipulates how much compensation European teams receive when NHL franchises draft their players.

Russian teams want to be able to negotiate their own fees like soccer clubs, but the NHL is not likely to agree to that anytime soon.

There is [discussion in Russia], but everyone knows it is impossible without an agreement, said Slava Malamud, a Russian reporter who covers his country’s athletes in America for Sport Express. I don’t think the [players’] union would go for it, and I don’t think the Russian [federation] would want to make any peace offerings before the NHL balks and starts talking to them on their terms.

Should there be a peace accord in the future, the league should act swiftly to schedule a set of games there. In keeping with the theme of having a hero from the host country in the games (like Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson in Sweden and New York’s Jaromir Jagr in the Czech Republic — think some people are crossing their fingers that he is still in a Rangers uniform in September?), the logical choice for two matinees in Moscow would be the Washington Capitals.

Having Alex Ovechkin in his home country to promote the game and the league must be a salivating thought for league officials. How many people would pay just to watch Ovechkin walk around Moscow with a handheld camera, let alone a couple of hockey games in front of 14,500 wonder-struck fans at Khodynka Arena?

I would love to see the Capitals play a game in Russia, Caps majority owner Ted Leonsis said. Our league has an international flavor, with great players coming from numerous countries. We certainly have a nice following in the Russian media and taking an NHL game to that country would help us and the league to grow interest in our sport.

The Capitals would benefit from a visibility perspective, but I would look at the overall positive exposure for the NHL — that is the most important barometer. The league has been extremely open to such ideas, and this is certainly something we would be interested in pursuing.

If it were a perfect scenario, the league could match Ovechkin (and Alexander Semin, of course) and Washington up with Evgeni Malkin and Pittsburgh or Ilya Kovalchuk and Atlanta. At this point, the idea is a long shot but the revenue and media attention could someday make it a tantalizing endeavor.


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