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Sean Leahy

International expansion's ultimate goal: NHL Europe league?

Sean Leahy
Puck Daddy

Bill Daly's revealing interview last month about the National Hockey League expanding into Europe had the hockey world debating the pros and cons of such a monumental decision. NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly fueled that debate this week, telling Sportsnet that Euro expansion was "the wave of the future" and that in the future "you could drop down a couple of teams in North America and add five or six teams overseas."

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More than 30 percent of NHL players are from Europe and Russia, so it would make sense that the league would kick the tires on such an idea. While it sounds like a distinct possibility, there's little doubt the logistics might hinder the fruition of the idea.

You can write a laundry list of potential issues facing a European expansion division: taxation laws, ticket pricing, sponsorship dollars are a few that come to mind; not to mention, most importantly, the cost and issue of travel.

How long of a break upon their return do you give a team after they go on a European road trip? Do they play every team in the Euro division and come back, or will separate trips need to be made? With gas prices increasing over the last year, will they have leveled off to help teams on jet fuel costs?

You could go on with the questions and poke holes in how the NHL expanding to Europe wouldn't work, but I have a feeling all this talk is for something else. Something which possibly was conceived after the Kontinental Hockey League started giving Gary Bettman fits:

A European hockey league sponsored and branded by the NHL.

This would be like the KHL but backed by the NHL, featuring the top teams from all over Europe.

Now you might be saying that there's no way this could happen since the birth of the Champions Hockey League this Fall, but let's not forget, this isn't a solution about to come to fruition overnight. We're talking 10-11 years down the road here. There's plenty of things you could do, but the focus is that the NHL wants to minimize any future impact the KHL will have on the league and its players.

Steven Brown, a consultant and scout for teams in the Swedish Elitserien and HockeyAllsvenskan as well as writing his own blog at Inter-Ice Hockey Report, doesn't necessarily agree with my theory:

"The NHL dedication by European teams to join them in a league is not as big as you think. Each country has their own traditions based in their own leagues, some for almost 100 years now. Sure, the NHL name is sexy with cool North American franchises in top cities and the Stanley Cup."

Brown does however see the possibility of top Euro clubs joining an NHL Europe eventually, but not after seeing how things go after a few years:

"From the traditional standpoint I don't see teams leaving the Swedish & Finnish leagues. But, with both KHL and NHL pressure some clubs might want to get on board first and ride the wave ... ride-able or not and take a chance."

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