We’re providing this critique of various authors expressing their thoughts about European obstacles and opportunities for the NHL playing in Europe.
Bill Meltzer’s critique of the Eklund’s Hockey, LLC., plan:
There is still a significant gap in overall talent between the NHL and other European leagues. In the Swedish league, someone such as Bud Holloway is a top star. In North America, he is a borderline NHL player. Likewise, a team such as defending Swedish champion Skellefteå AIK would not be a playoff caliber club if it played in the NHL. To have essentially the equivalent of an NHL-caliber team playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs does not sound very entertaining nor would the suggested automatic fourth-seeding of European teams likely to be well-received in North America.
How would these teams compete on a more equal footing with NHL clubs and have a snail’s prayer at actually competing for a Stanley Cup? They would need to be bankrolled with MUCH bigger budgets to sign NHL caliber players on the same basis as current NHL teams within the NHL’s cap floor and ceiling. That kind of budget simply doesn’t exist for European teams.
Would the European participants in the NHL be permanent ones? If so, they would need access to participating in the NHL Draft. The idea of all that happening in conjunction with the teams also continuing to primarily compete and collect the revenues available in their domestic league does not feasible to me.
If the teams rotate in and out of NHL participation based on how they do in their domestic league, the NHL would end up with some teams that play in tiny markets with small arenas. The NHL may want teams in Stockholm and Gothenburg, for instance, but the best team at a given time may be located in Karlstad, way up north in Luleå or in tiny Örnsköldvik. It should also be noted that some of these tiny markets often have some of most passionately devoted fan bases in those countries.
But would the NHL actually want to hold regular season and/or playoff games in a locale such as Skellefteå? I’m not sure about that. Likewise, the NHL season-opening games in major European cities — pitting existing NHL teams against one another — have not been especially hot tickets. Fans in Europe are accustomed to generally lower prices for tickets.
Additionally, the NHL also needs to be aware of the struggles that past pan-European leagues (such as the Champions League and its predecessors) have had in trying to gain popularity and support. For the most part, the games have drawn poorly and been treated less than enthusiastically by competing players and coaches.
For the most part, fans in Europe have NOT paid to see games pitting club teams from different countries’ leagues against one another. Coaches often end up resting their best players in these games and those who do play have often played at something less than maximum effort.
Would a “European division” of the NHL — with a prize of Stanley Cup playoff participation — draw increased interest? I think it might, but it’s by no means a slam dunk.
Before the NHL can even seriously think about expansion into Europe, they would need to resolve all of the aforementioned issues and more. The logistics and scheduling are rough, especially with the time zone differences. The European rinks would need to be reconfigured to NHL specifications, at least for the playoffs. Moreover, what would the NHLPA think about all of this? How would North American teams that lose out on a playoff spot — or at least home games in the postseason — to a European club that played a fraction of an NHL “regular season” schedule react?
I can see some allure behind ideas of increasing the NHL’s direct presence in Europe. But until a host of issues are worked out to make it feasible and acceptable to all the parties involved, I don’t know how it would be workable in the foreseeable future.