Canucks and Kings Faceoff in China

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced last night what many had suspected for months: the NHL will play preseason games in China. Bettman made the historic announcement from the Huaxi LIVE Wukesong’s Le Sports Center in Beijing along with members of the two participating teams, the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings.

The Canucks and Kings will play two games, one in Beijing and one in Shanghai prior to the 2017-18 season. Both teams seem to be obvious choices given their existing ties to China. Metro Vancouver boasts a population with nearly 450,000 residents of Chinese descent, while the both teams have held youth development camps in the country previously.

Canucks president Trevor Linden stressed the importance of not only showcasing the NHL game to potential new fans in China, but also growing the sport at the grass-roots level.

“This isn’t about doing some one off games but to be integrated at the grass-roots level. The games we play here in September are a nice piece of it, but if it’s not backed up with grass-roots support, it doesn’t make sense. It’s going to be a comprehensive program. I know that’s the NHL’s plan and certainly that’s the Vancouver Canucks’ plan.” – Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden

Branded the 2017 NHL China Games presented by O.R.G. Packaging, the event is a multi-year partnership between the NHL, NHLPA and O.R.G. with the ultimate goal of growing the sport of hockey in a country that expects to have as many as 300 million people participating in winter sports by the 2022 Winter Olympics.

What Does this Mean for the Olympics?

About those Olympic Games…the NHL has made it very clear that, while they’re not convinced of the value of attending the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, they’re all in for Beijing in 2022. With the IOC recently indicating that they may not be so receptive to the NHL’s participation in Beijing if they skip out on PyeongChang, it will be interesting to see if the NHL changes its tune.

Earlier this week the IIHF agreed to pay NHL player insurance costs on behalf of the league, but it’s believed that the NHL is still holding out for a “partnership” with the IOC. Specifically, the NHL feels that if it’s going to shut down its business for Olympic participation, it feels it should have rights to use Olympic broadcasts, trademarks, imagery, etc.

What Does this Mean for the Canucks?

The NHL’s most travelled team just added one heck of a leg to their journey for next season. By the end of the regular season the Canucks will have logged over 45,000 travel miles and while next season’s schedule has yet to be released, it’s expected that it’ll be just as rough. Add in over 10,000 miles in return flights to China and it’s likely that the 2017-18 Canucks will establish a new NHL travel record. For a young team that, frankly, can’t afford any excuses if they’re to improve next season, this may be too much to bear.

Travel concerns aside, the 2017 NHL China Games do offer the Canucks’ young players an opportunity to experience the game in a way that they never have before. There’s something to be said for changing up routine and experiencing new things, especially when a team is mired in mediocrity. So, while a pessimistic fan may not see the value in the Canucks travelling across the globe for what amounts to two exhibition games, an optimistic fan can at the very least hope that it provides their team with a spark.