DALLAS -- When the New York Rangers fired head coach Tom Renney in February, what had begun as an interesting tidbit became a curious coincidence.
Just five months into the NHL season, all four coaches whose teams started the year in Europe no longer had jobs. In addition to Renney, Tampa Bay fired Barry Melrose, Ottawa let go of Craig Hartsburg and Pittsburgh parted ways with Michel Therrien.
"Can we skip this story?" Blues coach Andy Murray said this week, as his club prepared for an eight-day trip to Stockholm, Sweden, where it will play two regular-season games against the Detroit Red Wings on Oct. 2-3.
There are many bonuses being involved in the NHL's annual kickoff in Europe, including global exposure, team-bonding and sheer anticipation. But there are an equal amount of pitfalls for which clubs must prepare.
The Blues were to depart for Stockholm following Saturday's preseason game in Dallas, and the execution of an itinerary that was months in the making was to begin as soon as the team stepped onto the plane.
On-board lights were scheduled to go off within an hour of take-off and players were required to hit their pillows. No cards, no movies, and most disturbingly for the young Blues' roster, no video games. The team wasn't crazy about the idea, which the players jokingly mocked in practice last week. Each one of them lay flat on the ice, pretending to be sleeping.
"(Murray) didn't get the joke, so I had to explain it to him," Keith Tkachuk said. "It was about being told that we have to take a nap on the plane. I'm 37 years old, so I was a little taken back by that."
The coach said he had a surprise for Tkachuk. "I got a bed for him right next to me," Murray said.
Sleeping arrangements aside, it's all part of a plan to get used to the time change in Sweden, which is seven hours ahead of St. Louis. After a 10-hour flight, the Blues will arrive in Stockholm at roughly 5:30 p.m.
"We want to start living off (Sweden's) schedule right off the bat," Blues strength and conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte said. "We're going to land in the middle of the afternoon and there's no way they can go to sleep. They'll go to dinner, stay up awhile and then back to bed."
"The first day is really tough," said new Blues defenseman Darryl Sydor, who made the trip to Stockholm with Pittsburgh last season. "You're going to feel real tired. But you're ready to go by the time you play the regular-season games."
With a few days built in before Friday's season-opener at Globe Arena, the Blues will have time for sightseeing and some team-building outings. Not particularly known for enjoying extracurricular activities during the regular season, Murray says that he's thrilled about his players exploring a new continent.
"D.J. King is from Saskatchewan," Murray said. "When would 'Kinger' get to see Sweden, or David Perron. The team is excited. They're like your travel team in Southern Ontario, and the coach is taking them to Europe for a tournament. ... Our guys are excited."
Likewise, the hockey fans in Stockholm will be excited to see NHL players. On Thursday, the Blues have time set aside to meet and greet fans at the rink.
"It's about branding the Blue Note," club president John Davidson said. "It also sells the game. ... We all know it's a wonderful game when you see it live and this is a chance for people to see it live."
Once the puck drops, the Blues are expected to play second fiddle in Sweden to the Detroit Red Wings, who have several Swedish players on their roster. The arena seats 13,850 fans and many of them will be decked out in red.
"We're going into a hostile environment," Murray said. "They'll definitely be the favored team."
The Blues will play two games against the Stanley Cup runners-up, with Friday's matchup counting as a home game for the Red Wings and Saturday a home game for the Blues.
When it's over, the Blues will return to St. Louis and have five days before they face Atlanta in their actual home opener, Oct. 8.
The resumption of the schedule had been a sticking point between the NHL and its clubs after Anaheim played in London to open the 2007-08 season. The Ducks played Sept. 29-30 and then returned to the U.S. to play Oct. 3 in Detroit.
Last year, Pittsburgh and Ottawa only agreed to make the trip overseas after the NHL agreed to grant extra days off after the journey home.
In the long run, not even that saved the jobs of the four coaches. But Pittsburgh proved that neither a trip to Europe to start the year, nor the ouster of the coach, can derail a team, as the Penguins went on to win the Stanley Cup.
"No excuses," Davidson said. "It's all about mind-set."