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The Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames will face off Sept. 15 in Shenzhen in southeast China and then again Sept. 19 in Beijing in the second incarnation of the China Games.
The Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks played preseason games in Shanghai and Beijing last September, the NHL’s first foray there.
China represents an as-yet untapped resource for the NHL, especially ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has so far been noncommittal about the NHL going to the 2022 Games after skipping South Korea this year, but the work is already underway in China, where the NBA has had a presence for decades.
”I think there is an enthusiasm to grow the sport, first at the grassroots level, but I think bringing games there and bringing NHL teams there and NHL players helps kind of support the story from the top down, as well,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by phone Wednesday.
”It’s really a two-pronged approach where you’re trying to build hockey infrastructure in a society that’s never really had any and then in order to drive that, you’re bringing hockey at its highest level so that people can appreciate what the sport can look like.”
Growing youth hockey and bringing NHL games to China is the plan, but from the league’s perspective, it’s not a three-pronged approach tied to Olympic participation.
”I was there in the spring and we had lots of discussions with officials at all levels to talk about the development of hockey and how we can work together, and those are things that we’re working on [url=http://www.washingtonredskinsteamonline.com/earnest-byner-jersey]Earnest Byner Jersey[/url] ,” Bettman said last month.
”Not once did we get asked about the Olympics in 2022. I’m not sure if we’re helping develop the game particularly at the grassroots level and giving them our software, if you will, whether or not we play for two weeks makes a difference.”
The league is working with local authorities to develop hockey programs as the government of the country with a population of 1.3 billion aims to have 300 million participants in winter sports by 2022. The Bruins made visits each of the past two summers to participate in hockey camps.
”Over the past three years we have collaborated with (businessman Zhou Yunjie) on growing the game both within the Chinese community in Boston and with youth hockey players in China,” Bruins president Cam Neely said.
”We look forward to continuing these efforts by bringing Bruins hockey to China with these two preseason games.”
Shenzhen’s location close to Hong Kong, its burgeoning population and its world-class facility that’s home to the two China-based Canadian Women’s Hockey League teams made it a natural fit along with Beijing for NHL preseason action. More cities are in the running in the future, which could at some point include regular-season games.
”Part of it is exposing the sport in different major cities throughout the country,” Daly said.
”These games over the next number of years are going to hit different locations, and we’ll see what’s worked well and what can be improved and it’s very much kind of a learning process for us.”
Hockey in China is one big learning process, and the NHL is in the early stages of its assistance.
China is ramping up its hockey programs with an eye toward the 2022 Olympics, but that doesn’t mean the NHL is a sure thing to go. Daly said the league sees hockey in China and the NHL at the Beijing Olympics as mutually exclusive.
”Our philosophy is one that isn’t necessarily connected to the other,” Daly said. ”I don’t think the fact that we want to grow our presence in China and grow hockey’s presence in China necessarily means we have to be in the Olympics. But it doesn’t necessarily preclude us from being there if ultimately we want to be.”
Bettman noted that Germany reached the gold medal game at the non-NHL Olympics in February, and wondered if staying out would actually be beneficial.
”Maybe the Chinese would have more success in 2022 in being competitive if we’re not there,” Bettman said. ”A lot of variables to be considered.”
One of those variables that could help the NHL return to the Olympics for the sixth time would be the Chinese government pushing for it. Sochi was an example of that.
”I think it could happen [url=http://www.vikingsauthorizedshops.com/authentic-stefon-diggs-jersey]Authentic Stefon Diggs Jersey[/url] , but even if that was something that they weighed in on, I’m not sure at the end of the day that would be a determining factor for us,” Daly said.
”I think there are a whole host of factors. It’s not just about kind of the conditions under which we go. It’s all the other things that are associated with Olympic participation, including what’s happening back here in North America.”
Sports Deputy Editor for Newsgathering Howie Rumberg in New York contributed.
Doug Williams looked at Alex Smith and slightly exaggerated the commitment the Washington Redskins made to their new soon-to-be 34-year-old quarterback.
"He can play to 40," Williams said Thursday. "Can you, Alex? Look at him. I think he can."
Smith smiled back and has plenty to be happy about. The veteran is now the Redskins' franchise quarterback after being acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs and signing a $94 million, four-year extension with $71 million guaranteed that keeps him under contract through 2022.
He'd be 38 if he plays out that deal, one that shows the Redskins were willing to commit long term to Smith the way they never did with Kirk Cousins. As Williams implied Cousins didn't want to be in Washington for the long haul, Smith made it clear he did.
"This is where I wanted to be," Smith said. "It looked fun. I wanted to be a part of it."
Smith gives the Redskins the kind of continuity at the position they lacked with Cousins, who became the first QB in NFL history to play back-to-back seasons under the franchise tag before signing a fully guaranteed $84 million, three-year deal with the Minnesota Vikings.
"I do believe that Washington had a lot of great pieces," Cousins said at his introductory news conference. "They will have a lot of great pieces going forward and the margin of error is small. The difference between winning and losing is so small."
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"That's somebody you can build your team around and know he's going to be here, year in and year out," coach Jay Gruden said. "You're not always looking down the road: 'Oh, who's going to be our quarterback next year?'"
Williams said three or four other teams were also attempting to get Smith, which the Redskins did by sending a 2018 third-round pick and promising young cornerback Kendall Fuller to Kansas City.
Smith had some say in his destination because he had to agree to the extension that Williams joked, "If we have to add a couple more years to it, we'll do that, too."
That was never going to happen with Cousins, a 2012 fourth-round pick taken the same draft as Robert Griffin III who thrived under the impression he was not wanted. From the Redskins' perspective, that went both ways.
"It wasn't a matter of wanting to commit to the other guy," Williams said of Cousins. "We had to look at it what we had to do that's going to be best for us, somebody who wanted to be here."
Smith's introduction six weeks after the trade and extension were agreed to came with a welcome gift as the Redskins signed former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson to a five-year deal that's reported to be worth $40 million.
Richardson saw what DeSean Jackson did as a fellow speed threat in this offense and talked to former Washington receiver Pierre Garcon about the situation and figured it would be a good fit to catch balls from Smith.
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Smith has already made the Redskins' brass into believers, and the entire organization from owner Dan Snyder and team president Bruce Allen down showed up for his much-hyped introductory news conference.
Standing in the same building that Cousins roamed the past three seasons as the starter, Smith looked comfortable being the guy and understanding the faith the franchise put in him.
"We've got to go win games," Smith said. "Excited about the opportunity because that's what it is at this point. It's an opportunity, and we've got to go make the most of it."
Gruden praised Smith for having "all the traits" to be successful, and Williams sees the same on-field characteristics.
But the Super Bowl MVP QB-turned-executive also sees another benefit in the locker room of Smith being under contract long term.
"I don't think the fans really understand when you talk about stability and when you know the guy that's going to be leading this team is going to be in your locker room for the next three to four to five years, that's a good feeling," Williams said.
"I think now they can relax and even during the season don't have to worry about whether our fearless leader's going to be here next year."
NOTES: The Redskins re-signed LB Zach Brown, whom they added in free agency a year ago. ... According to tweets from their agents, WR Brian Quick re-signed and former Cowboys P Sam Irwin-Hill signed with Washington.
AP Pro Football Writers Dave Campbell and Howard Fendrich contributed.