For the past five years, the NHL has hosted regular season games with 17 teams (and the Ducks, Kings and Rangers a second time) taking part. Host cities have included Berlin, London, Helsinki (three times), Prague (twice), Stockholm (four times). The past three Stanley Cup champions have started their season overseas. The NHL is going global, with an increasing number of players coming from the other side of the world.
So why is it a bad idea?
The team’s fans get screwed. Okay, so the NHL gets exposure to overseas fans, but each team that goes over loses a home game. The Kings will actually lose two home games this year, as they “host” both the Rangers and Sabres in Europe. So for any Los Angeles season ticket holders, they go from seeing their team 41 times to 39. With some teams struggling in their own markets, it seems odd to try and promote teams with only ties to (maybe) a couple players of the participating teams.
It’s unfair to teams. The teams playing overseas have to travel more (obviously). The Kings and Ducks rank in the top 3 for season travel, while all four travel at least 3,000 more miles than the previous season. The Kings will travel 15,000 more miles this season. Last season, the Carolina Hurricanes played almost the entire month of October away from Raleigh, not having their home opener until October 27th. Even though the team played better in the second half of the season, the extra travel undoubtedly took a toll, as they started out slowly, costing them the playoffs by two points. The Rangers will go through the same thing as the Hurricanes, not having their home opener until October 27th as well.
The rules are different. NHL rinks are 200 feet long and 85 feet wide. Overseas, the rinks are wider, which forces boards to be put up along the sides of the rink, giving a buffer between the benches and the seating area. But rinks are shorter. Take Ericsson Arena in Stockholm, for example. It is 60 meters long, which is about 196 feet, shorter than the regular 200. The four feet gets taken away in the neutral zone, shrinking it from 50 feet. It’s not huge, but when every game should be contested under the same rules (Winter Classic also in this category), it’s a difference.
My thinking is if you want to showcase the league to Europe, send a couple teams over to hold training camp and play some exhibition games against various league teams (like they currently do) and come back to North America for the regular season. Toronto did this in 2003, playing three preseason games in Finland and Sweden.
One good thing that does come out of this is weekday afternoon hockey.