Donald Fehr on NHL European expansion: ‘The sooner the better’

Donald Fehr gave his personal opinion on the matter of NHL expansion to Europe, saying he thinks it would be a tremendous achievement for the league as long as it’s properly prepared for.

Fresh off the NHL’s undeniably successful expansion into Vegas, and with a foray into the Seattle market potentially looming, it seems the league’s structural reach may soon stretch all the way to Europe, too.

The NHL appears to be mulling the possibility of including Europe-based franchises in its collection of clubs, all of which are currently based in Canada and the United States. Asked about the possibility of this European expansion on Monday, deputy commissioner Bill Daly clarified previous comments on the issue and suggested the league is indeed interested, but that current obstacles make it unlikely to happen any time soon.

“I was asked whether we’ll ever have franchises overseas and I said, ‘Certainly not in the short- to medium-term,’ but I thought that with the continued growth of the sport, expansion of the sport, that franchises in Europe at some point in time is probably inevitable,” Daly told reporters Monday. The key barrier standing in the way at the moment appears to be the types of venues available overseas, according to Daly.

“I think it’s buildings — building availability. There are not many North American-style buildings in Europe, and I think we’d have to get there,” Daly said.

NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr says he’s on board with the idea of expanding the league to Europe, though he stressed that he was speaking only of his own opinion and hadn’t discussed the issue with the players.

“I think the sooner the better, provided it can be done right,” Fehr told reporters Monday. “You don’t want to rush it. … You don’t want to do it before the capital is committed and the schedules are worked out, and all the rest of it.”

While Daly highlighted potential venues as a key obstacle, the other central issue is likely to be the drastic alteration to the schedule that would come with basing one or more teams in Europe. Fehr, however, believes a workable arrangement is possible.

“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,” Fehr said. “And my memory is each European team would come to North America twice. 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’ve got to play half the games at home and they’ve got 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 and good for everybody. Whether it’ll happen within my tenure, I think, remains to be seen. But hopefully sooner or later.”

While officially launching Europe-based franchises would be a significant change of direction for the NHL, the league has an extensive history of playing NHL games on European soil.

Just last month, to start the 2018-19 season, the New Jersey Devils and Edmonton Oilers played one regular-season game in Gothenburg, Sweden, preceded by two games against European clubs in Bern, Switzerland and Cologne, Germany, as part of the ‘NHL Global Series.’ The Florida Panthers and Winnipeg Jets similarly played out a two-game regular-season series in Helsinki, Finland.

In 2017, the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche played two regular-season games in Stockholm, Sweden. Prior to that, the NHL had various clubs face off to open their regular seasons in Europe from 2007 to 2011 as part of ‘NHL Premiere.’

Such events in fact date back to 1938, when the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens embarked on a nine-game series played out in venues throughout England and France, and a variety of European-based tilts have have been arranged by the NHL in the years since.

Hear more of Bill Daly and Donald Fehr’s comments on the NHL’s potential expansion to Europe in the videos embedded throughout this post.

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