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All-Star Notebook: Sabres still awaiting word on NHL's 2019-20 international games

SAN JOSE — No word yet.

That was the verdict from the NHL on Friday about next year's schedule of international games, as rumors continue to circulate that the Buffalo Sabres are a prime candidate to play two regular-season games in November in Stockholm, Sweden.

As previously announced, commissioner Gary Bettman reconfirmed that the league has plans for a season opener in Prague and the Stockholm games. He announced there would be preseason games in Switzerland and Germany, and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it's likely the league will again stage preseason games in China.

But who's going where? We all have to wait.

"We are not ready today to announce the dates or teams but more to come shortly," was Bettman's cryptic answer.

The Stockholm games are expected to be a series, much like Colorado and Ottawa played in the Swedish capital in 2017 and Florida and Winnipeg played in November in Helsinki, Finland. Each club would be considered the home game for one contest, so it's likely to be an East team against a West team, so their entire season series would be played overseas.

Rumors have abounded in recent weeks about the Sabres going to Sweden to meet the Nashville Predators, but the Preds were announced Friday as the Dallas Stars' opponent in the 2020 Winter classic at the Cotton Bowl. It's a virtual certainty the NHL would not put them in two marquee events in the same season.

A growing possibility for an opponent for the Sabres could be the Vancouver Canucks, as the 1970 expansion cousins will be celebrating 50 years in the NHL and each has a huge young Swedish star on the roster: Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and Vancouver center Elias Pettersson.

The Sabres also have several other Swedish players in their organization, such as Lawrence Pilut, Johan Larsson, Linus Ullmark, Victor Olofsson and Alex Nylander.

The Sabres last went overseas to open the 2011-12 season. They played a preseason game in Mannheim, Germany, then posted regular season wins over the Anaheim Ducks in Helsinki and the Los Angeles Kings in Berlin.

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The real crux of Bettman's news conference was to announce that the league is going full speed ahead on puck and player tracking starting with the 2019-20 season. Fans can get a glimpse of what's in store during Saturday's All-Star Game. While the game will be broadcast as normal on NBC (8 p.m, Channel 2), a digital call on NBCSports.com and the NBC app will feature several aspects of the new tracking system.

Speed of shots and passes, speed of players and distance skated are all among the prominent new features that will be available. Bettman said the league's system can track pucks at 2,000 times per second.

Microchips are inserted into the players' shoulder pads and antennas will be placed around each NHL arena to track their motion. Pucks will also have specially inserted chips to collect data.

"We think many of our fans — especially the Innovation Generations — millennials and Gen Z — are going to love this new frontier," Bettman said.

Bettman said the system was tested at two recent games in Las Vegas involving the Golden Knights against the New York Rangers and San Jose Sharks. Examples he cited of data collected had San Jose defenseman Brent Burns and Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault each skating more than 3 miles in the game and Vegas center William Karlsson reaching a peak speed of over 20 mph.

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In addition to the Nashville-Dallas Winter Classic, Bettman announced next year's Stadium Series game at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs will pit the Avalanche against Los Angeles. Cracked the commish: "We're confident this will have the absolute best flyover that anyone has ever seen."

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Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby did not participate in Friday night's All-Star Skills Challenge due to the flu. He is expected to play in Saturday night's game.

The only player who is uncertain for the game is Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon, who is nursing a foot injury. Because MacKinnon is here to participate in appearances such as the Red Carpet and met the media Friday, he would not be suspended for one game for not playing.

MacKinnon was replaced in the Fastest Skater competition by U.S. women's Olympian Kendall Coyne.

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