In the last two years, there have been 35 players drafted from Sweden, 16 from Russia, and 10 from Finland. These players enjoy going back and playing in front of their friends and family, just as much as Canadian or American-born players going back to their hometowns.
The league has made an effort to play meaningful games at the start of the season in various countries to sell the game. This sounds like a good idea: try and mimmick opening night and have the games count for 2 points in the regular season. In the big picture, it is a good idea but try and tell that to the teams who make the trip.
This season, the Ottawa Senators and the Pittsburg Penguins played in Stockholm, Sweden while the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers played in Prague in the Czech Republic. How is it going for these teams?
All four teams have fired their coach and all four could miss the playoffs. You say this is a coincidence - you would be wrong.
Hockey players are creatures of habit. You train day after day to get yourself ready for the season and you eventually develop a routine. It changes and gets more refined but not a whole lot.
It is a calendar thing and every day has a specific assignment. It is all geared to starting the season in early October.
Training camps are the same. Every day is a progression leading to getting off to a good start. New coaches get to teach their systems and get to know their players and their players get to know them.
Ask Craig Hartsburg or Barry Melrose if they enjoyed their European vacation.
The league knows the teams are being inconvenienced and tries to set up tours and treat the players well but how can you get the right exhibition schedule when you end up playing in a mean nothing club tournament?
How can you gauge where your team is when you only play one opponent and that opponent is in the same boat as you?
Training camp is a drag and I should know.
When I first started it was six weeks long and we played only four exhibition games. The veteran players knew they could use that time to get in shape. The NHLPA now has training camp limited at 21 days.
Exhibition games start three days in. It is big business and you have to come into camp in shape. You have to use those three weeks wisely and the teams that go overseas might as well have no training camp.
Pittsburg last year went to the Stanley Cup final and two years ago Ottawa was in the final and now they're 10th and 12th, respectively, in their Conference. Tampa Bay follows at 13th and New York is the only team currently in playoff contention at sixth in the Conference but have gone 2-5-3 in their last ten outings.
Four teams started the season 11 hours away and all four have different coaches.
A coincidence? No chance!