Weekly Reader: When will the NHL expand internationally, plus is it OK to pile on Kris Russell?

Could the NHL's preseason foray into Beijing be a harbinger of expansion? "We're going to work to grow the game in places like China, where there isn't a presence of hockey," says commissioner Gary Bettman. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

Hello, and welcome to the Weekly Reader, which will run every Friday and collect news and views from around the hockey world on the week's biggest stories. Seen something worth highlighting here? Hit me at greg.wyshynski@espn.com, or do the same if you have suggestions for the column going forward. Enjoy!

The NHL's (seemingly endless) centennial celebration has afforded us the opportunity for wacky predictions about the next 100 years of hockey. Rocket skates! Games on the moon! Jaromir Jagr plays into his third century! At least a baker's dozen more lockouts!

Hockey Hall of Famer Yvan Cournoyer was asked recently for his own prediction and was more pragmatic. "The NHL is going to be in Europe," he said.

On its face, this makes too much sense. The makeup of the league is global, and the NHL in turn has a global brand. The games held everywhere from London to Helsinki to Beijing have always seemed like a harbinger of teams to come. And let's face it: There might be a finite number of revenue streams the NHL can tap into in North America, and it already has the faucets blasting on most of them. Bring on the euros and rubles and yuan, right?

So when might the NHL look to expand to Europe, if only to make dear old Yvan Cournoyer happy?

"I think that's very far off, for a couple of reasons," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told ESPN on Wednesday, at a centennial event at the Paley Center For Media in New York. "One, obviously the logistics. Secondly, the infrastructure as far as arenas and facilities in Europe aren't the same as they are here. The economics of the game doesn't work the same way there as they do here."

This is true: The Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, where the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators played in November, seats 13,850. Hartwall Arena in Helsinki seats 13,506. Russia doesn't have a hockey arena that seats more than 13,000. Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg has the NHL's smallest capacity at 15,321.

But Bettman said that the size of the buildings is only one consideration. It's also about who's currently using them.

"Perhaps most importantly, there are, in the major hockey countries, existing leagues. We're not looking to compete with them, or supplant them. We're looking to work with them to continue to grow the game. That said, we're going to work to grow the game in places like China, where there isn't a presence of hockey," Bettman said. "We're focused on our footprint in North America, and having a presence abroad."

(This is where you scream "WHAT ABOUT THE OLYMPICS?!" and I say "Don't blame the NHL, blame the IOC" and you scream "THE SAME NHL THAT'S USING OLYMPIC PARTICIPATION AS A BARGAINING CHIP IN THE NEXT CBA NEGOTIATIONS?!" and I say "Well, you got me there." Rinse, repeat.)

The NHL's presence abroad is bolstered by those international games, and could be bolstered further by international events. The next World Cup of Hockey's location hasn't been announced, but the hope is that there's an international host component to it. Then there's the long-gestating Ryder Cup-style event that many expect will supplant the NHL All-Star Game in some seasons.

"That's something that we're working on with the players' association. My feeling is that when we're in a place where we can announce the next World Cup, then we can discuss doing the Ryder Cup," Bettman said. "All of our international events we do jointly with the players' association, and we've been urging our colleagues to pick up the pace."


There was a time when I thought an NHL Europe league or even a division of teams was a near-future thing. But Bettman and the NHL clearly feel the return on investment, at this point, might not be worth it for a full-fledged team. Which is why we'll see all manner and sort of international events for the next decade to tap those revenue streams.

Here's what I want: Ryder Cup, Canada vs. The World.

The ultimate test of the ultimate hockey hubris. And when USA Hockey raises its inevitable stink about being at the kids' table rather than on equal footing with its neighbors to the north, just mention the 2004 Olympics and the 2010 Olympics and the 2014 Olympics and the World Cup and ...

Hockey dunking

Lacrosse goals remain my favorite form of hockey dunking, in the sense that they take considerable skill and timing and in the sense that they present a nightmare scenario for helpless goaltenders, like they're on "auto goalie" and someone just used the deke move in "NHL '93" on them.

This was Philadelphia Flyers prospect Matt Strome of the Hamilton Bulldogs, as apparently every team in hockey will have a Strome at some point in the near future. Busy family.

It's OK to blame Kris Russell for being terrible

Alas, Kris Russell finally found a shot on his goalie that he couldn't attempt to block.

This own goal at 18:55 of the third period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night lost the game for the Edmonton Oilers. Straight up lost the game. I know people are all like "But he assisted on a game-tying goal and then scored another game-tying goal himself!" -- as if that somehow balances the equation with going Shea Weber on your own net with a minute and five seconds left before overtime. I mean, Scott Norwood hit a 23-yard field goal and two extra points before losing Super Bowl XXV himself. Where's his statue?

Last night's folly fit snugly into the ongoing maligning of Russell as a bad hockey player who drags down nearly everyone he plays with from a possession standpoint, as well as the battle between Oilers fans and the hockey media, which apologized for Russell and celebrated the fact that he didn't disappear after the game while questioning the humanity of those who might bash or ridicule him for, you know, losing the game for his team.

This battle is best captured in a tweet like this:

But my bigger issue with the reaction to the reaction on Russell last night: How did we arrive at this place in sports where every screw-up needs to be humanized?

Where a sweeping, emotional response by a frustrated fan gets "well, actually'd" by the media because some guy showed up to answer questions after a hockey game and his teammates didn't throw him under the bus?

Was it because Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood never lived it down? Was it because of Steve Bartman?

It's escapism. We're in on the joke. Like, we get it: A real hero is fighting on the front lines in Afghanistan; he's not scoring a shootout goal in the ninth round on a Tuesday night against the Coyotes. But we still call that player "a hero" because it's all preposterous make-believe, just like we can still call Kris Russell "the guy who cost his team a point last night" because he literally did. Maybe it's the Gotham in me, but I recall sports columnists taking joy in lighting up mistakes like this rather than acting as crisis PR for them.

Don't feel guilty about your emotional response to something designed to elicit emotional responses, as long as that response is in proportion.

Gaunce, baby, Gaunce

Vancouver Canucks center Brendan Gaunce's first and only NHL goal came on Oct. 30, 2015. He has now gone more than a full season's worth of games without another one -- 85 games to be exact, from 2015 through Thursday night, the longest drought for an active forward.

When will he score again?

"Let me check my calendar," quipped Canucks coach Travis Green to ESPN this week. "It looks like he's got his legs under him. He's had some good looks ... look, it's not easy to score. Guys who are 20- or 30-goal scorers, they make a s---load of money. He's a young guy trying to find his way. He's playing well."

Gaunce was selected at No. 26 in the 2012 NHL draft after netting 82 goals in his four junior seasons with the OHL's Belleville Bulls. He has scored 32 goals in 129 AHL games with Utica, playing under Green before the latter was promoted to Canucks coach. But in the NHL ... one goal in 86 games.

"I don't think we need to add pressure on him that he has to score. He has to put himself in a position to score, and be a player who plays in the other zone, and not his," Green said.

And then maybe he scores?

"I mean, I hope he scores," Green said.

Jersey Foul of the week

From reader John:

There's a lot to love here, from the age of the jersey to what we assume is a "Hockey 101" joke to the battle cry for many an American viewer in the U.S.

From reader Kristi comes this:

Of course the first Weekly Reader after Thanksgiving would feature leftover pi ...

Our only real question here beside the obvious "Why?!" would be about the total cost for this thing. Do you buy your own numbers? Does the pro shop do it for you?

Instant share for anyone who can produce an "AVOGADRO" and the appropriate number on the back of an NHL sweater.

Burn the offside coach's challenge with fire, Vol. 56

The NHL coach's challenge for offside is, like many things, noble in concept; the concept being that egregious blown calls by linesmen that result in goals should have some level of check or balance to be corrected.

What it's sadly become: a nightly exercise in pixel counting to see whether a skate is on the ice, and nonsense like this from the Colorado Avalanche's win over the Winnipeg Jets this week:

I counted: There were 14 seconds between the zone entry and the Avalanche goal that would have ended the game at that moment. Fourteen seconds for the Jets to clear. Fourteen seconds of all manner and sort of things to happen to prevent the goal.

The coach's challenge for offside takes too many goals off the board as it is, but this is lunacy. Some have suggested a time limit on how much zone time a team has before the offside becomes invalid. How about we just limit the challenges to goals scored off the rush that are offside plays, rather than after a team has cycled around for 14 seconds?

Either way, this is dumb. So fix it.

Puck headlines

Jason Boterill offers a state-of-the-Buffalo Sabres address to The Buffalo News. On Jack Eichel: "There's mixed reviews I'm sure for Jack because of the offensive production. ... But what I've absolutely loved from Jack is that competitive nature that he has and has shown. He's interacted with Phil, and he wants to improve as a player. [Buffalo News]

Alex Prewitt on the sick flow of hockey hair you see in warmups. [SI]

Dave Lozo on the resurgence of Alex Ovechkin this season. "In this modern era, when defenses are at their most intricate, what Ovechkin is doing should not be possible. The only thing that will keep Ovechkin from being elected to the All-Star Game will be rampant and easily identifiable voter fraud." [Vice]

Kris Bryant and Bryce Harper finally find common ground -- in their shared love of the Golden Knights. [Tribune]

Drew Doughty's delightful game, in which he pumps up his free-agent contract value with vague comments about the future, continues: "I know I'm going to talk to [Erik] Karlsson back and forth, kind of see what money he's looking for. ... I'll kind of look at what money I'm looking for. I don't know if he's going to re-sign with Ottawa. I don't know if I'll re-sign with L.A. You just never know what's going to happen." [The Athletic]

The NHL and CTE make NPR. [NPR]

Six young players were charged with simple assault for an on-ice brawl. [NBC 10]

Hockey tl;dr (too long; didn't read)

Meet the American Jewish coach behind Israel's only Arab ice hockey team. [JTA]

In case you missed this from your friends at ESPN

Testing expectations vs. reality for NHL teams at the quarter point of the season. [ESPN]