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More often than not, I agree with Brian Burke - the World Hockey Summit in Toronto that is coming to its conclusion was a fantastic idea... if you could fork over the $450 ticket price and believe that the NHL is willing to implement changes. To me, the Summit is a re-hash of ideas, some great, some not so much, but certainly by no means having a direct impact on hockey in general because of its lack of execution. Increased scoring, financial viability of certain teams, expansion, and the CBA were again the major topics of conversation, some of which are worth discussing. <img src="http://www.tsr.ch/xobix_media/images/tsr/2008/swisstxt20080512_9077705_0.jpg"class="imageFloatRightFramed">Even though the NHL is struggling to keep some of its franchises afloat, there has always been talk of expansion, but not necessarily the kind that adds more teams, but rather the geographical kind. In my mind, there's no doubt the Coyotes are going to move, but the question remains when and where. Winnipeg and Quebec City are the oft-discussed destinations in Canada while south of the border the usual culprit, Kansas City, remains the most intriguing option. But what of overseas expansion? It's no secret that hockey is big in Europe and if the NHL is interested in generating revenue, Europe already has an established fan base, unlike the majority of the southern teams in the US. However, International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel is steadfastly against the idea. The underlying motivation behind Fasel's position isn't holding a grudge against Gary Bettman for refusing to commit NHL players to the 2014 Sochi Games, but more for protecting the interests of the European hockey leagues and indirectly, the NHL. The NHL boasts the world's best hockey players in the world but also the biggest revenue streams. As much as Alexander Medvedev thinks the KHL is more lucrative and more talented, that's just not the case. Ray Emery, who spent a season with Atlant Mytishchi, says the competition isn't even close and I'm inclined to agree. If the KHL, who often boasts about its player salaries exemplified by its offer to Ilya Kovalchuk (reportedly close to US $20 million a season, tax free), can't compete against the NHL, then neither can any of the European leagues. By establishing an European division, the NHL can essentially wipe out those leagues. Obviously there will be some fan loyalty to consider, but if the best players play in the NHL's European division, that's where the fans will go. Fan support is clearly dictated by the success of a team's on-ice product. Earlier this summer, Russia's most storied hockey franchise, Moscow Dynamo, whose alumni include Pavel Datsyuk and Alexander Ovechkin, folded. If a team of that stature can fold, and while the KHL's financial instability isn't mirrored in the Swedish Elite League or the Finnish National League, it's not inconceivable that other storied franchises like MoDo or Jokerit Helsinki could fold as well. Even if the NHL is willing to pump millions of money into an European division, the logistics would be a major headache. Flight costs, scheduling, and game times are just some of the major problems it will encounter. If the Canucks were to play in Stockholm, they'd have to travel over 7500 km (airplane fuel is slightly more expensive than the already ridiculous prices they charge you at your local gas station) and a 7:00 PM game time in Stockholm translates to 10:00 AM Vancouver time. This severely decreases TV viewership and even if the games are played on weekends some die-hard Canucks fans would find it hard to get up that early. If the Canucks play at home at 7:00 PM, it's 4:00 AM in Stockholm and at that hour there's almost no point in broadcasting the games, especially if the NHL wishes to charge Swedish TV networks a premium for showcasing NHL talent. It's an idea that just won't work on any level and should be laid to rest. The second issue worth discussing is again, the salary cap. Even though Kovalchuk's original deal with the Devils was voided by Richard Bloch, it looks like he's going to be a Devil anyway. While other teams have knocked Kovalchuk's door, I think it's his intention to remain a Devil. You have to wonder if the Kings would've made a second pitch to Kovalchuk had they not signed Alexei Ponikarovsky upon hearing Kovalchuk's 17-year pact with New Jersey. The Kings still have ample cap room but having an extra $3.2 million in the bank could've changed things. If the NHL was so intent on preventing these "cheat" contracts from happening, why not dole out a real punishment, like preventing the Devils from re-negotiating with Kovalchuk? At the end of the day, when Kovalchuk is once again in the red and black, the Devils and Kovalchuk will merely shrug their shoulders. The Devils still got the player they wanted with (most likely) another ~$10 million per season salary contract, albeit shorter. Preventing re-negotiations between the two sides may be crossing the line for the NHL but it's a league that clearly doesn't believe in reason or logic. <img src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_S-6RkogBLCs/SZQTkclNhaI/AAAAAAAAArk/rmYHVhfx7hk/s400/DSC_0497.JPG"class="imageFloatLeftFramed">The Hawks have also been whining about how inflexible the cap is and may have to loan Cristobal Huet to the Swiss National League A. The victim here is clearly Huet, not the Hawks, and frankly I'm a little disappointed the Frenchman hasn't sounded off. Since day one the Hawks have little confidence in their $5.625 million goalie and have come up with oh-so-original idea to either banish him to the AHL or loan him to European teams. Whether or not you agree Huet is starting material is debatable, but he is a NHL-calibre goalie. Teams that have clearly made mistakes, like Washington with Michael Nylander and the Rangers with Wade Redden, should be punished by having those salaries count against the cap regardless of where they're banished to. The Rangers, and more recently the Caps, now have deep pockets and aren't afraid of paying players to just simply go away. Unlike Phoenix, those organizations don't have problems paying their players but do have problems understanding how the cap works. By this time, entering the sixth year of the current CBA, there should be no excuse. The CBA is far too flexible and makes it far too easy for teams to make their mistakes go away.
Can't wait until tomorrow to read the Canucks.com Tale of the Tape preview? Here's a sneak peak of the scouting report versus the Blackhawks. After a bit of a sluggish start to the season through October and the early part of November, the Chicago Blackhawks are starting to recapture the form and swagger of the team that made it all the way to the Western Conference Final last season. In typical Blackhawks fashion (at least over the last year or so), they've done so by intimidating opposition defenders with their embarrassment of riches in offensively-gifted skaters. The Blackhawks are among the top scoring teams in the Western Conference, but even that doesn't tell the whole story. They've managed to continue their scoring ways despite not having yet replaced Martin Havlat's 29 goals and team-leading 77 points from 2008.09. (His replacement, Marian Hossa, is expected to make his Blackhawks debut sometime on their current six-game road trip). They also had to deal with the absence of captain Jonathan Toews for six games earlier this season after he suffered a concussion during Chicago's last game against the Canucks. While it's not surprising to see the two Patricks (Kane and Sharp) atop their leading scorers list, the Blackhawks have gotten plenty of contribution offensively from their entire lineup. With the exception of Colin Fraser, every Blackhawk player that has played 10-or-more games this season has recorded at least one goal. What most people might find surprising about the Blackhawks is that they've also been one of the Western Conference's and the League's best teams in terms of goals against. They have surrendered just 49 goals in 21 games played and a big reason for that has to do with the improved play of netminder Cristobal Huet. After giving up three-or-more goals in five of his first six starts of the season and looking like he was about to have his starter's role usurped by Antti Niemi, Huet has rebounded quite nicely giving up three-or-more goals in just two of his last 11 games. There is a chance that the Canucks could see Antti Niemi in net tonight as Huet and the Blackhawks played last night in Edmonton although with three days off after this game in Vancouver, the Blackhawks may opt to continue to ride Huet's hot streak. Huet was solid last night in Edmonton stopping 25 of 27 shots in a 5-2 win. He did not start against the Canucks back on October 21st. Niemi played that night and made 28 saves on 31 shots in the losing effort. Niemi has not started since November 6th in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Read the complete Canucks.com Tale of the Tape preview here. (Updated on the morning of each game)