While the majority of NHL regular season games will be starting on October 3, it begins a few days early for two teams in an odd place. The first two games of the regular season will be played between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks in London, England.
This bold move on the NHL's part has led many to ask if this is the first step to expanding the league's reach and putting teams in Europe. Of course there are many logistical questions that arise, especially the prospect of a team playing in say, London travelling all the way to Vancouver for a regular season game.
Now if the league were to do this, first of all they would need to establish at least 6-8 teams in Europe to start with so that they could at least play a substantial amount of games against one another. Realistically this could only be done by moving at least 4 of those teams from North America so as to not drastically dilute the talent pool. While I would have no problem cheering for the Prague Predators, Cologne Coyotes, Paris Panthers, or London Lightning, I have a feeling that Bettman would have trouble admitting defeat and moving teams out of unsuccessful markets, since these floundering markets are all recent additions to the NHL and a point of pride for the Bettman legacy.
So there seems to be a bit of a point of tension between the desire to expand globally while not contracting locally, which in all reality are things that need to go hand and hand. Now is there a compromise out there? As a matter of fact, I have an idea which may work for everyone...
Have EVERY team play a handful of regular season games in Europe at one point or another every season. Have each division go to a designated country every year for 2 weeks or so and play a game or two against each other team in the division, you can even have some sort of trophy or prize for the team with the best record at the end of the little round robin to make the overseas fans feel like they are watching more than just some regular season games.
For example, you could have the Northeast division go to the UK every year and hell you could even attach each team to a city or two so you could have the Tottenham Maple Leafs, Arsenal Senators, Chelsea Canadiens, Manchester Sabers, and Liverpool Bruins. They play one or two games against one another (so each team is playing either 4 or 8 games in total) and if say the Arsenal Senators have the best record they get some little trophy or cash prize. Not only does this allow the NHL to showcase its game around the world, but it keeps it in a style similar to the man different Cup series that they have in European Football and it allows the different regions to start to develop bonds with their "local" teams, furthering their interest in the game. Lastly, it gives every team in the NHL a similar travel schedule, because it is hardly fair to ask the Anaheim Duck and Los Angeles Kings to fly all the way from London back to the West Coast of North America and start the rest of the regular season jet lagged. This way everyone is on the same page.
Of course the different divisions wouldn't all be going over at the same time, then there would be no games taking place in North America. They could stagger it over the course of the beginning of the regular season, say October to December, so then teams aren't severly jet lagged when it comes to the playoff push at the end of the regular season. Also they could try and keep sending teams to play in countries where their bigger stars are from (for example have the Southeast play in Russia so the Russian fans can watch Ovechkin), but I realize that would be difficult with player movement what it is these days.
Sure they would need to work out some logistics to it all, but I am confident that this idea could work if given enough time to develop, and it would really be a great compromise. Sure teams would loose four home games each, but I am certain that they could make up for it in the long run with the increased global awareness that playing so many games in Europe could bring them.
I'm sure it won't happen anytime soon, but if it does, remember, you heard it here first!!
Until next time,