Canada

Capitals interested in playing an NHL regular-season game in Russia as soon as next season

WASHINGTON—The Washington Capitals have expressed interest in playing a regular-season game in Russia, perhaps as soon as next season, in what would be a first for the NHL and a homecoming for team captain Alex Ovechkin.

The league has announced two overseas games next season as part of its 2020 Global Series: the Boston Bruins vs. the Nashville Predators in the Czech Republic and the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Colorado Avalanche in Finland.

The Capitals also have discussed playing a game in Sweden, home of center Nicklas Backstrom. Washington last played abroad in 1989, when the Capitals held training camp in Sweden before playing four pre-season games across the Soviet Union against Soviet National League teams.

“We’ve talked about different things overseas and we’ve talked about some in Russia or some in Sweden,” Capitals President Dick Patrick said. “We’re not sure; it’s a league decision. They’ve talked about China, too, which would be like an exhibition game. I personally wasn’t too intrigued with that. I think it is just too hard on players during training camp.

“It could happen next year or the year after. If we are going to do it, it would probably be one of those years.”

During NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s news conference ahead of the Global Series game in Stockholm earlier this month, he told reporters that, “If we’re going to play games in Russia — and we know there’s great interest in our game there — it would most likely be from our standpoint regular-season games with two NHL teams.”

The Capitals boast four prominent Russian players on their roster: Ovechkin, top-six center Evgeny Kuznetsov, top-four defenceman Dmitry Orlov and young goaltender Ilya Samsonov. Ovechkin, a Moscow native who has scored more goals than any other Russian in NHL history and was the first Russian captain to win the Stanley Cup, will be in the final season of his contract next year.

More than 40 Russians play in the NHL, and the league is so popular there that it recently agreed to a multi-year deal with Yandex, the leading internet search provider in Russia, to broadcast all NHL games through its streaming service.

Bettman suggested last month that the NHL could return to Sweden two years from now, but the overseas slate of games that season could be complicated by potential Winter Olympics participation in 2022, which would compress the league schedule. The NHL has played at least two regular-season games abroad since 2017.

“We’ve talked about it some with the league and how it would impact our schedule,” Patrick said. “There are upsides and probably some downsides too. The downside is with all that travel, you are not going to get very many games in, in quite a period of time. That compacts the rest of your schedule, which you have to see if you can work out.”

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