UNIONDALE, L.I. -- All the Buffalo Sabres have to do is say "yes" and they will start next season in Europe, according to ESPN.com and the rumor mill inside the team dressing room.
ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported tonight that the NHL has asked the Sabres to be one of the six teams that will head overseas to begin the 2011-12 season in the annual Premiere Games.
"Nothing is finalized," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier told The Buffalo News during the third period of a 5-3 loss to the New York Islanders.
The other teams asked to travel to Europe are the Edmonton Oilers, Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, according to LeBrun, who quoted multiple industry sources. The league started the Premiere Games in 2007-08 with two games in London, and the preliminary plan calls for six games in six cities next season, LeBrun reported.
"I heard the rumor, too, that we’re going to Germany to my hometown," Sabres left wing Jochen Hecht, who is from Mannheim, told The News. "That would be nice. We’ll see."
The San Jose Sharks played an exhibition in Mannheim this season. Hecht said he and his family need about a week to get accustomed to the six-hour time change in Buffalo when he comes back from summers in his homeland. It is the obvious drawback to accepting the offer.
"It’s tough dealing with the time change, going there, playing those games then coming back and jumping right into game action again," Hecht said. "It’s a nice experience. On the other side, I think travel is going to be very hard."
The NHL’s main desire with the Premiere Games is to grow the game outside North America. Bringing home an Olympian like Hecht and an Austrian sports hero like Thomas Vanek presumably would be a bonus for the European fans and the Sabres.
"It’s always good to go," Vanek told The News. "I know growing up over there, I was a huge fan. Even though we only got about an hour a week to watch it, it was a thrill. To go over there now, I’m sure a lot of young kids are excited to see the teams."