Donald Fehr, the executive director of the NHL’s Player Association, says that if the logistics of a trans-ocean league can be worked out, the NHL should do it as soon as possible.
Fehr clarified that this is a personal opinion, “not discussed with the players.” But despite the lack of conversation, he has put some thought into it–he worked out a schedule previously that would make it feasible for five European-based teams to be incorporated in the regular-season schedule.
"I think the sooner the better, provided it can be done right."
NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr gives his take on international expansion. 👇 pic.twitter.com/9OBleaHRpm
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 12, 2018
Here’s what Fehr said.
What I’m about to say is entirely a personal viewpoint, this is not discussed with the players. So if you’re going to do something with it, make sure you say that.
I think the sooner the better, provided it can be done right. You don’t want to rush it, you don’t want to do it half-assed, you don’t want to do it before the capital is committed and the schedules are worked out and all the rest of it.
But I actually, several years ago, and I probably don’t remember the details right, worked out a schedule with 30 teams where you could have five based in Europe. And my memory is, each European team would come to North America twice and each North American team would go to Europe once. The European teams would still play the vast majority of their games in Europe because they have to play half the games at home and they have to play each other.
And I think it would be a real positive statement to create the first really trans-ocean league anywhere. I think it would be an extraordinary achievement for everybody. Whether it’ll happen within my tenure I think remains to be seen, but hopefully sooner or later.
Of course, Fehr’s statement that this would be “the first really trans-ocean league anywhere” is not completely accurate. The Canadian Women’s Hockey League expanded to China in 2017 with the addition of the Vanke Rays and Kunlun Red Star. The teams were folded into one, the Shenzhen KRS Vanke Rays, before the start of the 2018-19 season.
If the NHL expands overseas, it could come into conflict and compete with leagues already established in Europe and Russia. Currently, international hockey is dominated by leagues like the SHL (Sweden), NLA (Switzerland), and the Kontinental Hockey League, which has 27 teams spread across 7 countries, spanning 2 continents.
Despite the fact that KHL teams routinely fold or return to smaller regional leagues due to financial struggles, they also have their eye on more expansion.
“The KHL strategy includes the league’s expansion to the East and West as one of the main objectives,” KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko wrote to Vice Sports in 2017. “There has been considerable interest in joining our league in the recent years from various clubs and countries.”
The KHL expanded to China in 2017 with the Kunlun Red Stars, and have faced travel difficulties similar to what the NHL would have to deal with. An example of the longest travel in the NHL is the Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers, who are around 2,700 miles apart. For comparison, the KHL’s HC Amur and HC Slovan Bratislava are almost twice that, with 4,800 miles.
The NHL had an ambitious “Global Series” plan for 2018-19. The Devils and the Oilers played in Sweden in early October for an exhibition game against European teams, and then their season opener against each other. The Panthers and Jets flew to Finland in early November to play two games in Helsinki.
Headline photo: Sportsnet
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