In Matt Barry's most recent post over at Hockeybuzz (I was bored) he challenged Quisp to research how Western Conference teams that start in Europe do in the regular season. I was so bored I decided to do the research myself. As it turns out, starting in Europe does not seem to have much of an impact. Good teams do well and bad teams do poorly. There have been a few of each starting overseas as the NHL does not seem too intent on just showing off its big-market or high-talent teams. The following Westenr Conference squads have opened their seasons in Europe in the last 5 seasons:
The Kings, Blues, Blue Jackets, and Wild were all pretty bad teams. That Kings team in fact tied Tampa Bay for the fewest points in the league in 2007-08 and that's why they have Drew Doughty. Their respective European records were 2-0 for the Blues, 1-1 for the Kings and Blue Jackets, and 0-1-1 for the Wild. None of those teams made the playoffs. Did opening overseas have any negative impact on the start of their seasons when they got back home? Well the Kings proceeded to lose four straight upon their return but they sucked anyway so that was probably to be expected. They went 2-11-1 in December too and that probably can't be blamed on having been in England three months earlier. For October the Kings actually treaded water at 6-7. The Blues fell apart pretty much as soon as they got back and probably had the fact that the Red Wings were coming off back-to-back trips to the Stanley Cup Final to thank for winning both games. They lost their next 3 and finished the month with a 5-6-1 record. The Blue Jackets lost their first game back but then went on to win 5 of 6. Of course, the Blue Jackets are a Western team in name only. Minnesota won 3 of 4 when they got back, but again, not really a western team.
So how did the good teams fare?
Anaheim was coming off a Stanley Cup-winning season when they played the Kings in London. (I'm sorry for reminding you.) After splitting the London games with the Kings in September, they were a below-.500 team in October at 6-7, losing their first 3 games back and 4 of 5. They still finished with 102 points, the 3rd most in the West, but lost in the first round of the playoffs.
Detroit in 2009 lost both games to the Blues but won their next two when they got home and finished October with a 5-4-3 record. They finished with 102 points which in '10 was only good enough for 5th in the West, and they got bumped in the 2nd round. Of course, as I said before, they had been to the Finals the two prior years so wear-and-tear beyond a couple games in Europe was playing a role there. And like Columbus and Minnesota, the Red Wings aren't really a team that plays in the west.
I think we all know what happened to the Blackhawks upon their return. They won the Stanley Cup. They went 1-0-1 in Europe, dropped their first game back and then won another 4 in a row, finishing October with a record of 8-4-1 on their way to winning the Central Division and finishing right behind the Sharks for 1st in the West.
Last year, the Sharks went 1-0-1 in Europe against the BJs and lost their first 2 when they got home but I think you can chalk that up to a slow start. They won 4 of their next 5 and took the Pacific Division crown before bowing out in the Conference Finals.
As for the Coyotes, they split two against the Bruins and then lost 4 of their first 5 when they got home, though 3 were in OT. They finished October at 3-4-3, but ended the season with 99 points, good for 6th in the West. They got swept in the first round.
So I don't think you can really draw any conclusions from that except that as I said initially, good teams who start in Europe still have good seasons, though the first couple weeks might be a little rocky. Bad teams will have bad seasons no matter what continent they open on.
Interesting note though, the last 3 Stanley Cup Champions all opened their seasons in Europe: the Penguins played the Senators in Stockholm in 2008, the Blackhawks played the Panthers in Helsinki in 2009, and the Bruins played the Coyotes in Prague in 2010. Might the Kings make it 4 in a row? Here's hoping.