Having a European division would give the NHL greater visibility.
The timing may seem strange and off-putting, but there will come a time when the NHL can think about its future, long-term plans.
Right now, the only thing that matters is the lockout that has just wiped out all games through the end of November (source: Elliotte Friedman of CBC.ca).
That's painful and depressing, but there is still time to save the season and ultimately crown a champion during the postseason.
With the lockout in place, a number of NHL players have decided to play in European leagues. That's where the NHL may decide to expand at some point in the future.
A European division may make more sense for the NHL than any of the other North American sports leagues.
The game is played well and with passion throughout Europe. It's not a game that would have to be forced on Europeans the way the NFL tried to do with NFL Europa (source: NFL.com).
Expanding to Europe would create increased competition and interest in hockey.
The talent level of European-born players is extremely high in the NHL.
Players like Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik are among the best and most talented players in the league.
Adding a division of five or six European teams would not be difficult to fill with talented players.
Many players compete in European leagues in Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany.
Finding enough players to fill a European division would probably be the easiest part of a European expansion effort by the NHL.
The NHL struggles for recognition at times in North America.
The NFL is the king of all professional sports and the NHL usually ranks behind Major League Baseball and the NBA in opinion polls (source: HarrisInteractive.com).
Why not give the league more influence by having a European division?
The expansion would give the NHL more credibility around the world.
It would help increase its status in North America because the NHL would be the only league to operate a successful European division.
The NHL does not have to just put a "show" division in Europe to increase its gross revenues.
Certainly, finances would be an important reason to expand and the NHL is in business to make money. But a new European division could increase the way the league's championship is awarded.
A European team could compete in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The NHL could do this by giving the first place team in a five- or six-team division a spot—perhaps the eighth seed—in the Eastern or Western Conference playoffs.
Travel would be an issue, but making the playoff series between the NHL-North American team and the NHL-European team a 2-3-2 format (two home, three road, two home) could be a possibility.
During the regular season, the European teams could compete against themselves for the majority of the season, but each team would come to North America to play against one division per season. North American divisions could also make a trip to Europe.
There is plenty of interest in hockey in North America and Europe, but a league that has teams in both continents would increase popularity in the sport of hockey.
This is proven every four years during the Winter Olympics.
Hockey is one of the most popular sports in the quadrennial winter competition and one of the reasons for this is the high level of play.
People who are not always interested in hockey often pay attention to the sport during the Olympics.
Competition in the NHL could bring in new fans and create more interest in North America and Europe.