NHL looking for permanent presence in Europe

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hopes the season-opening doubleheaders in the Czech Republic and Sweden this weekend will usher an era of a more permanent presence in Europe for the league. He emphasized that the NHL is far from establishing expansion franchises in Europe and went on to say:

“We want to create a program where we’re coming back on a regular basis to satisfy and address the interest that we know is in our game here in Europe.”

The NHL also announced the re-introduction of “The World Cup of Hockey” to the platter of international competition sponsored by the league. The tournament was put on the shelf after the NHL began participating in the Winter Olympics. The plan is to stage this event every four years beginning in the fall of 2011. The NHL’s current international hockey commitment is playing in the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, but further participation in Olympic competition is a negotiation point for the next collective bargaining agreement.

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Four early season storylines in the NHL

The opening of the NHL season will take place overseas this weekend, and there are a few key storylines to keep an eye on during the first week of the season:

NHL invasion of Europe
A year ago, the Anaheim Ducks opened the season against the Los Angeles Kings in London, England. This season, four teams are kicking off the 2008-09 season in Europe: the Ottawa Senators will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in Stockholm, and the Tampa Bay Lightning open their season against the New York Rangers in Praque. The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) President Paul Kelly announced that the number of teams opening the season in Europe could double next year, as multiple European cities have expressed interest in hosting NHL games next season.

Selanne resigns with the Ducks
Forward Teemu Selanne signed a two-year contract worth $5.25 million with the Ducks after the club traded defenseman Mathieu Schneider to the Atlanta Thrashers to free up the necessary cap space. Selanne didn’t want to miss time in training camp like last season when he was contemplating retirement from the sport. With a two-year commitment to the team, Selanne is committed to getting the Ducks back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Possible trades due to salary cap restrictions
Rumors have been circulating that a number of teams are looking to deal players due to salary cap restrictions. The Chicago Blackhawks have solved their salary cap problem by putting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin on waivers this week. The writing was on the wall that his days were numbered in Chicago when the team signed free agent goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal worth $22.5 million in July. The San Jose Sharks are looking to trade defenseman Kyle McLaren and his 2.5 million dollar contract to avoid starting the season $225,000 over the salary cap. McLaren became expendable after the team added Dan Boyle and Rob Blake to the backline in the offseason.

Inventive marketing plan on the West Coast
In an unusual joint venture, the Ducks and Kings announced a ticket-sales package for games that will be played Oct. 14 in Anaheim and Nov. 16 in Los Angeles. The package will be called the “Freeway Face-Off” and $60 will get fans tickets to both games.

Ryder Cup 2008: My old Kentucky home!

This past weekend, the Ryder Cup was not just about golf, it was about a group of Americans coming together as one, riding the emotion generated by the flag-waving crowd at the Valhalla Country Club to defeat the Europeans.

The so-called experts gave this Tiger-less United States squad a puncher’s chance of winning the Ryder Cup. The Europeans were expected to continue its dominance over the U.S. that had extended to three straight defeats, five out of six, and eight out of 11 matches prior to this weekend. But the Americans didn’t need a miracle putt or an amazing comeback like their last victory to capture this crown.

Every questionable roster decision made by U.S. Captain Paul Azinger turned into gold this weekend. Two of Kentucky’s native sons light shined the brightest on Sunday. Kenny Perry, whose lifelong dream was to compete in a Ryder Cup event, delivered a 3-and-2 victory in the first single competition on Sunday to swing the momentum back towards the U.S. direction. And it was Campbellsville, Ky. resident J.B. Holmes’ final two birdies in his single match that set up the Americans for victory.

Other memorable scenes from the weekend include Anthony Kim’s youthful exuberance, which was on display all three days in Louisville. His attitude became infectious throughout the team, and brought out some emotional reaction even from cool, calculating Phil Mickelson on the golf course. And the fans cheering as loud as possible, “BOOOO,” as Bo Weekley did his best Happy Gilmore impersonation after a tee shot, galloping like a horse on his driver down the fairway.

The book is closed on European dominance in Ryder Cup play. This event seems to be energized once again and could retake its place as one of the top events in golf.

Couch Potato Alert: 9/19

37th Ryder Cup
The three-day match-play competition between the United States and Europe has a way of making the world’s elite golfers wilt under the pressure of trying to capture the Ryder Cup. Over the last 25 years, it has become a hotly contested event, with the U.S. record at four wins, seven losses, and a tie, including three straight match defeats to the Europeans (the Ryder Cup takes place every two years). The competition will begin this morning at 7 AM EST on ESPN from the Valhalla Country Club in Louisville, Kentucky, and continue throughout the weekend on NBC.

Wake Forest vs. Florida State
Neither school has distinguished itself as a contender for securing a spot in the ACC championship game. Wake Forest would love to duplicate their last trip to Tallahassee, when they shutout the Seminoles 30-0 two years ago. Florida State has been playing short-handed due to player suspensions and will welcome back star wide receiver Preston Parker to the lineup on Saturday. Coverage begins at 7 PM EST on ESPN2.

LSU vs. Auburn
There’s no better way to start off the SEC season than with a LSU-Auburn showdown. The “Tiger Bowl” winner could establish itself as the team to beat in the SEC West, though Alabama might have a say in the matter down the road. LSU and Auburn have split their last four meetings, with each game decided by six or fewer points. Coverage begins at 7:45 PM EST on ESPN. Click here for the official LSU-Auburn smack thread.

Georgia vs. Arizona State
The luster has been taken off this game by the Sun Devils’ overtime loss at home to UNLV last week. It’s still a big game, as the Bulldogs are in the national title hunt despite being passed in the polls by USC and Oklahoma. ASU could get back in the BCS bowl picture with an upset in Tempe on Saturday night. Coverage begins at 8 PM EST on ABC.

Baltimore Orioles vs. New York Yankees
This Sunday night, the final major league baseball game will be played at historic Yankee Stadium. The House That Ruth Built has been the home office for post-season success come October, as 100 World Series games have been played at the Stadium. This event will be nationally televised on ESPN beginning at 8 PM EST.

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