Such expansion would be years away if it ever happens, but there are signs of support for NHL European expansion franchises at some point down the road.
Adding NHL clubs in Europe would present some intriguing possibilities for the league, but also some considerable challenges. Multiple European teams would need to be added at once in order to ease travel and scheduling concerns, while more NHL-ready arenas would have to be available. Those factors will be among the most pressing questions the NHL would have to address if it were to expand to Europe, but that does not rule out the possibility that European expansion takes place at some point in the future.
In recent comments, NHL Players’ Association executive director Donald Fehr offered his personal support for eventually expanding to Europe (players have yet to take an official position as a union), while NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged that “franchises in Europe at some point are probably inevitable.” Daly stressed that it is not at all a near or medium-term proposition, but nonetheless expressed sentiment that continued growth of the sport would make it possible. More from The Globe and Mail:
“I think it would be a real positive statement to create the first really trans-ocean league,” Fehr said on Monday. “I think it would be an extraordinary achievement for everybody. Whether it will happen in my tenure remains to be seen, but hopefully sooner or later.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has been saying lately that expansion to Europe is inevitable. He says the only way it can work is if an entire division of teams, probably a minimum of four, is added. Both Daly and Fehr were at Prime Time Sports & Entertainment’s annual sports-management conference in Toronto on Monday, and Daly repeated what must now be considered the official position of the NHL.
Daly said he does not think European expansion will happen “in the short- to medium-term but with continued growth in the sport, franchises in Europe at some point are probably inevitable.”
The makeup of the players in the NHL at this point also points to placing teams in Europe. In a panel discussion at the conference, Daly said the percentage of Canadian-born players among the 740 or so players in the league dipped below 50 per cent for the first time three years ago. That percentage is now in the “low forties,” and the league “has never had as many international players as it does now,” Daly added.
Whether NHL European expansion eventually becomes a reality remains to be seen, but it would likely be years away if it ever does come to fruition. The aforementioned issues relating to travel, scheduling, and arenas are among those that would have to be addressed. The NHL would also likely need to figure out how many teams it wants to field long term (it currently fields 31, but Seattle is expected to be approved next month as a 32nd franchise that will begin play in the coming years).
Still, the league has made some outreach efforts in Europe in recent years, including this season’s debut of European Game of the Week–a program in which European television partners air NHL weekend games in prime time. The NHL could look to grow its efforts from there, and perhaps expanding the league to include European franchises eventually factors into those plans.