Across the Atlantic is one of the hot spots for what I like to call Displaced NHLers (DN’s). Several of our best have gone there because of The Lockout. The next Olympics is ‘over there.’ It’s basically, happenin’ professionally. North America currently is not so much.
So why not be brazen and bold in this Lockout period and opt for the unexpected. Don’t shrink the NHL – expand it. Go European. Here’s how it could play out…
Show Me The Money
If the NHL expanded eastward, it would need an even number of teams. That number would not need to be so many that it was gangly and filled with ‘gimme game’ teams. But it also would need to be worthwhile in size to make travel work.
So six teams would seem like a good round number. Our recommendations would be:
Helsinki, Finland; Hartwell Arena (13,506 capacity)
Berlin, Germany; O2 Arena (14,200); (they could go with Cologne and its 18,500 Lanxess Arena instead)
St. Petersburg, Russia; Ice Palace Saint Petersberg (12,300); (a bigger arena would need to be built; you would think Moscow here, but all arenas are smallish and there is KHL competition in town)
Stockholm, Sweden; Ericsson Globe Arena (13,850)
Prague, Czech Republic; O2 Arena (17,000)
And Bern, Switzerland; Post Finance Arena Bern (17,131)
Those countries have the largest percentage of registered players at multiple development levels in Europe. While we know not all players on, say, the Swiss Baren (German plural for Bears) would come from Switzerland, demographics require a game-supportive population and system to feed the sport’s future growth. Still, those size arenas suggest a Winnipeg Jets-like economic input into the system. Arenas would likely have to expand.
This reorganization and expansion would look like this for what, in effect, would become the World Hockey League:
And to assist with a revenue sharing pot to quell apparently cash-starved owners, the Winnipeg model indicates 6 x $60M US would put $360,000,000 on the table up front, not to mention European TV/Cable broadcast money ($140M a year makes a first year $500M treasure chest). (I see a partnership for broadcasts in local, English and French Canadian languages through The NHL Network and another SiriusXM NHL Network Radio to cover games that start at noon U.S. time here.) Naming and branding rights, sponsorships, merchandising, media packages… You are just blinded by multiple dollar signs, aren’t you?
How Do They Do It?
Let’s assume the NHL first and foremost does not want to have the season stretch later in the year (June) than it already does to complete a season. There are some constraints here:
1. You will have to start the season in mid-September. This means a shorter training camp and pre-season. But with rookie camps and current player training regimens practically year around, so what? Shorten the maximum allowable number of pre-season games to four and start camp on 1 September.
2. There has to be a model for road trips to Europe and North America. It must take into consideration jet lag on both ends and would likely be best if there were no back-to-back games played. The model suggests teams make 17-Day trips to Europe or North America. In Europe, North American teams play every Euro team on one road trip. In North America, Euro teams play every team in one division. Here is an example of each:
So potentially, you could have 17 days with no games played in Europe, and 17-days with no North American home game. More on how it all fits together below.
3. With the 17-day road trip model above, you cannot play 82-games. You can play 76, however, which provides for eight games per divisional rival (40), a home-and-away game against everyone else in your Conference (24), and one per team in two of three, cross-Conference divisions (12 more, for 72 total). Because of the latter, it takes two years to play one cycle against every team and three years to get a home-and-away cycle against every team. We say you run the entire cycle twice, for a total of six years, before any CBA is reviewed. Where “A” is away and “H” is home, the cross-Conference game spread looks like this:
4. Putting Nos. 1 – 3 above together, you get the “Cycles” below. In RED are 17-day road trips across the Atlantic. In YELLOW are 17-day home stands where an Intra-Conference Division visits from across the Atlantic. These road trips may seem like a pain, but they support such things as the circus in Chicago, summer renovations to Madison Square Garden and hockey tournaments for developmental leagues. And “Division Pairs” are our old recommendation of back-to-back games between division rivals – these pairs are randomly scheduled to meet arena needs.
The 186 days required equals approximately three games per week, a sustainable number for recuperation from injuries and the increase in travel. If you are looking at the 2012-13 calendar, there are 188 days between 10 September ’12 and 31 March ’13.
5. Finally, the playoffs. A newer format ensues here:
a. The top twoteams from each division play each other in Round 1, along with the next two, best teams as ‘wildcards.’ In the ‘Eastern’ Conference, yes, this might see the wildcard teams playing a cross-Atlantic series. If that is the case, they play a 2 – 3 – 2 series to facilitate cross-Atlantic travel. We call this the ‘Top 2 + 2 Round’ where the best-of-seven series winners advance to Round 2.
b. The top four teams in each Conference are then re-seeded. (No.1 plays No.4 and No. 2 plays No. 3, decided by the normal seeding tie-breakers currently in effect in the NHL.) This round is a guaranteed seven games, or what we call a ‘Best In 7″ Round. It is played in the same 2 – 3 – 2 series as cross-Atlantic wildcard matchups to facilitate that travel. The two teams advancing to the Conference finals do so based on a requirement for at least three wins over the seven games PLUSthe winning goal differential. We will let your imagination run wild here, but this in effect kills the shot blocking, defense-first mentality of the current playoff system in order to draw more new fan attention.
c. The two Conference Finalists are seeded and play the same, Best In 7 series as in Round 2 with 2 – 3 – 2’s a potential schedule if cross-Atlantic play ensures.
d. The Stanley Cup Finals are a best-of-seven ‘Final’s series like Round 1 and what is already played today. If it is a cross-Atlantic matchup, it goes 2 – 3 – 2.
In doing the above, you have effectively put teams into Round 1 who have the gumption to win, have added emphasis on team offense in Rounds 2 & 3, and provided a finals with, presumably, the two most-well rounded, surviving teams in the League.
These four rounds of playoffs would take approximately 71 days (1 April to 10 June ’13) with those odd, random, no-game days between series to set schedules and look like the below. (Note here that the red ‘y’ indicates how the last ‘2’ in a 2 – 3 – 2 series is played instead of how the two “X” – non cross-Atlantic – games are played.)
There are a couple of others, cool notes in doing this:
- Travel is great for players.
- Broadcasts bring some of the rest of the world to the rest of the world.
- There is a true reason to take off work for a long lunch at noon if your North American team is playing in Russia.
- Your fantasy pool action runs ALL DAY/NIGHT LONG, so you HAVE to be more involved in the game to keep up with your fantasy teams.
- After the last game of the Stanley Cup Finals, something that will never change as a nod to the history of the League, you open up the free agency period 72-hours before the draft, hold the draft and conduct the awards show before June closes.
There are intangibles I haven’t covered or even thought up yet, but they all tend to grow the game.
So our DN’s have already found Europe. Why shouldn’t the NHL, and in a bigger way than the season openers of the previous couple of seasons?
Why not put money in the pot to help teams that struggle?
Why not be fair and potentially give our European family who produces 23% of the NHL’s players 16.7% of the teams in a 36-team League?
Why not drop to 76 games and have more players, more healthy come playoff time?
Why not change the current playoff format to something a little closer to the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers than we currently display now?
All in all, European expansion is harder to do. But in the spirit of the phrase “No road easy to walk down ever leads anywhere,” this change would be a win for the NHL, NHLPA and Hockey Fans on a more global scale.
Come on NHL, scrap your old name for the World Hockey League (WHL) and forget real sleep for nine months of every year. Bring us a more worldly game.