Four NHL teams started the 2008-09 regular season overseas. In Prague, the New York Rangers swept two games from the Tampa Bay Lightning, while in Stockholm, the Ottawa Senators went 1-0-1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With today's firing of coach Tom Renney by the Rangers, all four of these teams have now changed coaches since the start of the season.
The weak Lightning dismissed Barry Melrose quickly and messily. The defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins have struggled due to free agent losses, injuries and general underachieving, and fired Michel Therrien last week. Ottawa is working on its fourth head coach in just the last two seasons after replacing Craig Hartsburg three weeks ago.
The Rangers started out on fire despite the overseas travel to begin the season, going 10-2-1 in their first 13 games, but have been a .500 team since, and their current 2-7-3 stretch doomed Renney. Reportedly former Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella will take over.
Does the travel to Europe take a toll? The teams that started the season far from North America the last two years certainly seem to have lost an edge. Last year Anaheim and Los Angeles opened with games in London. The Kings ended up with the worst record in the Western Conference, while the Ducks followed up their Stanley Cup-winning season with a first-round playoff loss.
The 2009-10 season will begin overseas as well, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers meeting in Helsinki and the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues facing off in Stockholm. All four teams are currently either improving or at the top. About a year from now, we'll see if these teams fall victim to the European jinx as well.