Friday, March 30, 2007

Why The NHL Does Not Want a 2007 Summit Series

The 1972 Canada/USSR Summit hockey series is a defining moment in Canadian hockey. The Canadians were challenged at their game fell behind and managed to pull out a victory (just barely). It had all the drama of a Rocky movie. Every Canadian kid who wasn't even born in 1972 knows this was a great series and probably has seen it one of the many times it has been replayed on TV. That was 35 years ago. Maybe we could try to re-create the series in 2007. That was what Vladislav Tretiak, the president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation proposed.

Of course, the series would not be the same. You cannot capture exactly the same drama. It might not even be a close series this time. Nevertheless, it would be an exciting series for hockey fans to watch in the last days of summer when they need their hockey fix. It would make everybody some money. It would tire out the players who participate, making it even harder for them to survive the marathon of a season and playoffs that would follow. It would excite Canada and Russia (as long as the series remained hard fought close games). It would do little to help bring hockey to the American market (how much will Americans watch two other countries play hockey in an exhibition?). It's no longer truly a novelty to have international hockey. The Olympics happen every four years and have the best players in the world. Last time, there was a well-played tournament, but the wrong teams won (Sweden, Finland and the Czechs took home the medals), so the NHL has cooled on the idea of extra international hockey tournaments. Especially when they cannot bill it as two Olympic medalists playing one another.

Why do the Russians want another Summit Series? They want it because it may help to gain leverage in negotiation of a new NHL/Russia player transfer agreement. Right now "negotiation" is the NHL makes a bad offer and the European Ice Hockey Federations get the choice of whether to take it or leave it. Russia has been alone in choosing to reject it. This has led to some problems with player transfers including lawsuits and a defection.

If the NHL announces that they want a Summit Series, then they have to negotiate with Russia the terms. That negotiation will likely include negotiation of a new player transfer deal and would likely give Russia some clout at the bargaining table. They can give up some power in the Summit Series for a better player transfer deal. The NHL has no interest to give Russia any leverage in the negotiation. It makes it harder to play the game of "take our small transfer fee or we will take the players anyway and leave you nothing" that the NHL wants to play. There will not be a 35th anniversary Summit Series because it might allow Russia the leverage and the NHL doesn't figure its enough of a gain to make the loss of leverage in the player transfer debate with Russia worthwhile.

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