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"To boldly go where no game has gone before..."

The New York Rangers just released their preseason schedule, and it includes a September 23rd contest in San Juan, Puerto Rico against the Florida Panthers. Some may bemoan the NHL heading deeper and deeper into the sunnier regions of the world, but when it comes to exhibition games, neutral sites are a win-win all around. Season ticket holders back home don't like having to pay for games that don't count, and the league gets to bring more first-timers into the building to watch the action - and as we all know, hockey is a sport best appreciated in person.

My question is why the NHL doesn't pursue neutral site games more aggressively. Indianapolis, for example, is a major city that's within a four-hour drive of Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Columbus, yet it routinely misses out on preseason games. You would think any of the aforementioned teams would want to tap into that market - at least if you intended on growing your sport's national appeal. Old-fashioned barnstorming tours have worked in the past, and there's no reason they couldn't once again. A sensible guideline would be for each team to play two neutral site games in the preseason, targeting markets that are close to the teams involved, and have either minor professional league or major college programs that provide adequate facilities.

For example, the Red Wings and Blackhawks could play in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, which has long been a minor-league hockey town. L.A. and Phoenix could play in Las Vegas or San Diego, or Colorado and San Jose could play in Salt Lake City. What about cities like Seattle, Kansas City, Louisville, or Cleveland? There are people in all of these towns who have moved from NHL cities, and would be a prime audience for the "New NHL". What is needed is an aggressive plan to get those fannies in the seats and hence following the regular season and playoffs on TV. The preseason is a perfect opportunity to get that ball rolling.

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