NHL Should Not Consider Expansion Team or Conference in Europe
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The idea of NHL expansion to Europe is one that needs to be considered...and then dismissed in one sentence.
Forget about it. The NHL has too many issues to consider before concerning itself with the expensive and distracting issue of placing a team in Stockholm, Moscow, Prague or Helsinki.
Let's start off with the issues that the NHL has in its current state. The league is just starting to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players' association. Adding a European conference or team is something that would have to be addressed in the CBA talks.
That would likely add significant length and complications to the process. The last thing the NHL needs is any kind of work stoppage because CBA negotiations are going slowly. In order to give this issue a legitimate airing, it needs to be addressed when time constraints and deadlines are not at issue. Bring it up after a CBA is signed so the two sides are not in the fact-finding process at the same time a new deal is being negotiated.
Adding a European division would add jobs, and that's a good thing for players, coaches and front-office employees. However, it would not improve the quality of play in the NHL. It also would not add to the interest level of fans in North America.
It's hard enough for East Coast hockey fans to stay up late and watch games from the West Coast. What happens when the Los Angeles Kings have to play a game in Moscow? The players would have to fly out two or three days prior to playing a series in Europe just to allow their body clocks to adjust.
They would also need the same amount of time once they returned to Los Angeles. Otherwise, they would not be competing at top level.
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What about the fans? How would Kings fans follow their team when they are playing a mid-week game at 6, 7 or 8 a.m.? Most fans have to go to work and would not be able to follow the European games.
That would create disinterest in the Kings instead of greater interest.
The game is the thing in the NHL. Players understand that they will often have to play a game, hop on a plane, check into a hotel and play the next night. When you are keeping your travel within one continent, it becomes a matter of routine. When you have to fly over the ocean and go to another culture, it becomes a learning experience.
That may be good for the individuals, but it's not good for the game.
Coaches want to keep distractions to a minimum. They want players who are focused on skating, shooting, checking and making plays. When you are in a new culture and a new land, that's not really possible.
One of the great things about hockey is the intimacy the game carries. While hockey may not have the full-blown popularity of the National Football League or Major League Baseball, all teams and their fans feel like they are in it together.
The Boston Bruins have a long and storied rivalry with the Montreal Canadiens that borders on full-fledged hate, but that hate is tempered by the knowledge that they are really brothers in the same family. Would the Bruins find even a distant relative when playing the Prague Pretzels?
Should the NHL consider adding European teams?
Fans in Europe are not used to paying high prices for tickets (source: ESPN.com). How would they even cover the salaries of the players and team officials?
International hockey competition can be spectacular. They already have a way to determine the best international teams. It's called the Winter Olympics, and they are played every four years.
That's a perfect scenario. If the NHL and its fans want more, create a World Cup-type tournament (source: NHL.com) that allows champions from the NHL, the KHL (in Russia) and other credible European leagues to compete every four years as well.
Anything more than that would complicate—and possibly ruin—the great sport of professional hockey and the NHL.
Let the NFL pull a money grab and place a franchise in London or Berlin. The NHL should stay as far away as possible from European expansion.
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