NHL Europe

So Bill Daly thinks that 10 years down the road, we could be seeing franchises pop up in Europe. This is not the same thing as two North America-based teams playing exhibition or season (god forbid) games in Europe. Daly is directly stating that it is not completely out of the question that places in Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Russia could have NHL teams.

While Europe does have a fantastic fan base, and I have no doubt that should a NHL team suddenly pop up overseas that it’ll do moderately well financially, you have to not think about the dollars when making a decision such as this.

First off, there are still many untapped markets in the NHL, most notably, southern Ontario, as Wayne Gretzky had suggested yesterday. The struggling franchise 5-6 years ago are still struggling today. Nashville, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and numerous teams in the southeastern US and California are still struggling to win fans over. One of those teams is still stuck in turmoil after an ownership debacle and now the Boots Delbaggio investigation. Kansas City, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City have been pining for a NHL team, and while their potential is still hotly debated, it’s no secret that Gary Bettman and Daly still have a lot of work to do to make this game “stick” in the US. During the lockout, a poll of all 50 states showed that only residents of Minnesota missed the NHL. In some states, such as California, where it hosts 3 NHL teams, the answer was a very alarming and surprising 70% “no.”

Second, with the increase of oil prices, a hectic 82-game schedule plus playoffs, back-to-back home-and-home series, the travel is just simply impossible. Unless the NHL cuts its regular season games down to around 70, which will never happen, players will start fatiguing before the playoffs. Could you imagine if Anaheim or Vancouver got to the finals and had to play a team based in Prague? Fatigue and injuries would start to kick in, and that doesn’t make for a very good finals – never mind that it doesn’t feature a team from a big American market – I would think that it would be very hard to keep track given the time differences. The logistics of it just don’t make sense. A team based in a city without a very big international airport, say Ottawa, would have to fly through either Toronto and/or New York to get to European destinations. Could you imagine?

Third, Daly made no mention of franchise re-location – meaning that it’s assumed that the NHL may expand to over 30 teams in 10 years. Thanks, but no thanks. The NHL seriously needs to think about downsizing, perhaps just be even 2 teams. There’s tons of talent in the NHL to make all 30 teams relatively competitive, although not all at the same time, but losing two teams won’t hurt. In fact, it may even be beneficiary to the league. While that does mean that 40 regular spots are gone, it also means that the game itself becomes that much more competitive. The fringe players will continue to trickle through to Europe, but the best of the best remain in the NHL.

Gretzky manages to have some kind words for Bettman and his crew, but unfortunately the fans (the ones who matter most), disagree. As a side note, I wonder what Bettman would do if Gretzky had some choice words to say about the direction of the league. Would he hand down a strict fine to Gretzky to show everyone who’s boss of the league, or would he simply let it slip, as Gretzky is the NHL’s premier spokesperson?