Leiweke sees more continental drift

Special to The Times

LONDON -- The NHL’s first regular-season venture into Europe isn’t over yet, but Tim Leiweke, chief executive of the Kings’ parent company, is already thinking about the NHL staging more games at London’s O2 arena in future seasons.

“I hope there’s more games like this, and if we’re asked to participate, we will,” said Leiweke, CEO of AEG, which owns the Kings and operates the O2 arena and entertainment complex.

Leiweke acknowledged that it was easy for him to arrange for the Kings to play here and in an exhibition tournament in Salzburg, Austria, last week, but it wasn’t so easy to find a season-opening opponent willing to travel to London.

Ducks General Manager Brian Burke, he said, “is to be widely applauded for doing this.”


Added Leiweke: ". . . When I called him, we were in trouble because we couldn’t get anyone to come over with us. He said, ‘I get it, we’re there.’ That’s pretty remarkable. . . . I hope we don’t have to work that hard the next time around.”

That next time might not involve the Ducks -- and that has nothing to do with their 4-1 loss to the Kings on Saturday.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to involve the Southern California teams,” Leiweke said. “I think now the league, hopefully, will play a greater role in working at going to other teams and saying, ‘Look, we all have an obligation here to go out and grow this sport.’ . . .

“Sometimes we get caught up in the immediate problems we deal with in the league, back in North America. But maybe occasionally we ought to say if you go to Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Germany and Russia, arguably hockey is right there with football. We’ve got to play to our strengths. Europe is a strength.”

Leiweke also says he believes the impact of these two games will help persuade other NHL teams that the league would benefit from a stronger presence in Europe.

“In a day and age when some think of only their team,” Leiweke said, “hopefully we’re going to encourage everyone that the only way we can grow this sport is if we do it all together and we’re all prepared to make some sacrifices in the short term for the good of the game in the long term.”

One of those short-term sacrifices is playing Saturday’s game and today’s game at 9 a.m. PDT, a time when few TVs are on back home. “It may hurt our ratings a little bit in Southern California but it may help us in the rest of the world,” Leiweke said.

The O2 complex, which surrounds the arena, is a conglomeration of restaurants, shops, an indoor beach and movie theaters huddled under a gigantic, white tented roof. The effect, when walking along the concourse, is similar to walking through Paris Las Vegas with its fake cobblestones and artificial sky.

On Saturday, a walk around the complex resembled a visit to the United Nations. Fans from many European countries, wearing the jerseys of their national or local club teams, were displaying their loyalty and mingling with fans wearing NHL jerseys.

“I spent an hour and I heard languages I’ve never heard before,” Leiweke said. “I’ve seen jerseys I’d never seen before.”

The Kings and Ducks both complimented the London ice. “The facility was first-class,” Ducks Coach Randy Carlyle said. “And the ice improvement, from the first day we skated on it, I would have to say it was 200% better.”

Kings Coach Marc Crawford said he felt inclined to use Jason LaBarbera in goal for the second London match tonight, after Jonathan Bernier’s fine showing in the opener. “We really like Jason too,” he said, but more so, he wanted to “make sure we keep as fresh a lineup as possible.”