The NHL’s move to start its regular season in London, England is renewing debate about the viability of the league expanding to Europe.
Jim Kelley, a semi-regular host at the Fan590 in Toronto, correctly noted that “finding some schlep” in Europe to buy out owners of the sad-sack franchises in the American south – Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Phoenix, to name a few – would save the NHL the enormous cost of contraction.
Problem is, there’s no evidence the league has plans to give up on the U.S. television market by contracting.
Expansion to Europe is highly problematic. For starters, hockey’s popularity is limited to just a few countries. Yes, it’s big in Finland, Sweden, a few of the Eastern European countries, including Russia.
But would franchises in London, Paris and Milan, plus one or two cities in Germany receive the required corporate, fan, media and television support to survive? Debatable. Would Russia’s Super League politely step aside to give the NHL exclusivity to its market in Moscow?
A European loop would need to function largely autonomously from the North American conferences, because of travel and time complexities. Therefore, you’re talking about a 12-team conference. And how would that conference, presumably stocked with European players, impact on the quality of play in North America?
Plenty of questions. Fewer answers.