For the last decade or so, speculation has swirled every so often that the NHL is looking at expanding to Europe.
Of course, there isn't an ounce of truth to any of it, what with travel costs and the sheer shock value of uprooting a 90-year-old league, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun to dream.
Here's what my International Hockey League would look like (and unlike that ill-fated minor pro league of the 1990s, this one would be truly international).
My league would have 24 teams, with 12 in Europe and 12 in North America. The only American teams would be the four Original Six franchises; the remaining eight would be in Canada (the six existing teams as well as Winnipeg and Quebec City).
Unlike the mess Gary Bettman has created, my league would only cater to markets that truly love hockey. And at the risk of offending American readers, that means Canada for the most part.
Picking the European markets is interesting. Keeping with the theme of hockey markets, I'm going heavy with teams in Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, with two clubs each. I've also placed a team in Slovakia.
That leaves three teams left. They'll go in Germany, Switzerland and the Ukraine.
So, the European clubs go as follows: Stockholm, Sweden; Ornskoldsvik, Sweden (as the birthplace of Peter Forsberg and countless other stars, this place deserves a team); Helsinki, Finland; Turku, Finland (the stomping grounds of Saku Koivu); Moscow, Russia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Prague, Czech Republic; Pardubice, Czech Republic; Bratislava, Slovakia; Berlin, Germany; Davos, Switzerland; and Kiev, Ukraine.
The IHL will consist of four divisions, two per conference, with six teams in each division. The top four teams in each division will make the playoffs, and the first two rounds will be played within the division.
Sounds an awful lot like the NHL of 15 years ago, you say? Good. That's what I'm aiming for.
The divisions will be comprised as follows:
Conn Smythe: Toronto, Montreal, Boston, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Quebec
Lester Patrick: Detroit, Chicago, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg
Anatoli Tarasov:Moscow, St. Petersburg, Prague, Pardubice, Kiev, Bratislava
Sven Tumba: Stockholm, Helsinki, Ornskoldsvik, Turku, Berlin, Davos
Travel issues will be reduced by having the teams from one conference travel across the pond once a season to play the other teams once each.
For example, in year one the North American teams will travel to Europe (at the same time) to play each of the European teams once.
This makes for a heck of a long road trip, you say? That's too bad. This is my fantasy, go get your own.
In year two, the European teams travel to North America to keep the playing field even.
The regular season will consist of 72 games per team. Here's how it works:
Each team will play six games versus each division rival, which equals 30 games. They will play five games against each conference rival, which is another 30 games.
Finally, the 12 games against interconference opponents adds up to a schedule of 72 games.
Obviously, this setup will result in the European teams being stocked mostly with European talent, and vice-versa, but there will be no restrictions on where players can sign, or which prospects teams can draft.
The IHL would likely force European leagues to reinvent themselves as developmental circuits, with possible limits on how many veterans a team can carry. They wouldn't have to act as junior leagues, however, because the IHL still wouldn't have room for most of their older players.
In fact, more current European NHLers would go back to their European leagues because with only 24 teams, there will be less room for them. So it may not hurt leagues like the SEL or KHL at all.
Got feedback? Did I put teams in the wrong markets? Am I crazy to expect teams to go on a month-long road trip six time zones away? Let me know!