September 29, 2009
Time For A Champions League?
This is a picture of ZSC Lions of Zurich. They look like they just won the Stanley Cup! In actuality, they just won the Victoria Cup, defeating the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.
This victory, plus Tappara Tampere's win over the Florida Panthers earlier this week, is great for hockey and hockey fans in Europe. Some fans will be now be asking for hockey's version of a Champions League, pitting the best European teams against the Stanley Cup champion.
It is an interesting idea, and I think the Victoria Cup is testing those waters.
But I just can't see the NHL representatives ever truly being interested. I watched part of the HC Davos - Chicago Blackhawks game with some curiosity. I was surprised how many prospects and minor leaguers were playing for Chicago, with the veterans going through the motions just like any other pre-season game.
For NHL players these games are nothing more than exhibition games to prepare for the long, long NHL season. For European club team players, taking on a NHL team is their biggest of the season. For many it is the biggest game of their lives.
Politics will probably prevent a Champions League from ever taking flight. The NHL has nothing to gain, and lots to lose. By participating with half-effort, the NHL is further legitimizing European teams and leagues, especially Russia's wealthy KHL. This could actually backfire on the NHL in the future when it comes to attracting the best talent in the world.
Congratulations go out to Zurich, enjoy your victory for all it is worth. Hopefully it will one day be worth even more.
Slap Shots: IIHF.com has a great profile on Zurich goalie Ari Sulander.