Why does the NHL need to expand into markets other than North America? That’s easy, the choice is their own expansion or the KHL’s. The Kontinental Hockey League has wooed stars with big names and “glue guys” away, in order to be the biggest fish

The European problem is one that has been addressed in different ways by North American sports leagues. MLS would prefer you not compare the to Europe. The NHL travels yearly to Europe, at at least London to play a game. This is far scaled back from their quasi-independent, quasi-development league that continent spanning money pit etched in the history books as NFL Europe.

The NHL has addressed the European question with transfer agreements that sometimes are enforced, and others not. It has played regular season neutral site games across the continent with fans at the home arenas of half a dozen teams being shut out of a regular season game and usually a preseason game or two. Another way European audiences have been targeted is having NHL teams play exhibition games against local teams.

The problem of expansion into Europe full time isn’t just one of competition, its logistics, there is quality of play, financial concerns, and of course fomenting strong rivalries, something the NHL failed to do in the now dissolved Southeast division. Putting one or two teams outside North America is pointless. The team or teams would spend so much time traveling back and for the “balanced schedule” the NHL is currently in love with that it could be a cap exempt All Star roster and they’d be lucky to make the playoffs.

The basic solution is obvious, go back to a division heavy schedule and place or create an entire division in Europe. North American based teams could be scheduled to play four or more games in Europe, and the  European teams given a six or seven game minimum North American tour to help minimize travel times and dragging out the already long NHL schedule further. Ideally, the NHL trade deadline would be past of 36 or so total break in NHL games.

The logical number for teams to be added to the NHL is six if it going to go to Europe. That means you can have nights where every NHL team is in action, and the league can be split into six divisions each of six teams. On the revenue front, the NHL would have a ready made solution for getting live matinee games on the TV schedule, with the time difference between London, Bern, and other European ports.

Next a look at why it makes more sense to put some teams in Europe over other places in North America.

The expansion of the NHL is is as inevitable as some back office hack coming up with a rule change like the jersey tuck penalty to justify their salary. Seattle is the new sexy but it is hardly the only city that might do right by a franchise.

The first question is where would teams go after Seattle or whoever is #31 go?

Las Vegas has the appeal of being without a single other top tier sports franchise. Currently the Wrangers of the ECHL and a AAA baseball team are it for non collegiate sports. The tourism industry there has to be considered a plus, or would be if the NHL was good at marketing. A second Chicago area team would also make a great deal of sense, the Second City hosts two MLB and has its own NFL team and two teams close enough they’re nearly the same market, why not give a huge, sprawling sports mad city another outlet for their enjoyment? Saskatchewan, Kansas City, Houston and Salt Lake City can all put in a claim based on their size, cash on hand, or corporate presence.  But with the leagues current configuration, it is unlikely the Greater Toronto Area or Quebec City see a new franchise.

Can the feeder system handle it?

This isn’t just a question of the AHL which finally reach 30 teams again or the ECHL. It goes down to top tier Junior hockey and below, both in North America, Europe, and potentially elsewhere. NHL owners, the NHLPA and sponsors would need to take a hand in expanding the USHL, CHL, and other development leagues. As hockey mad as the northeast US is, the fact that there are zero CHL, USHL or NAHL teams in the six New England states or New York is unfathomable. Yes the EJHL, and to an extent the MWEHL cover some ground, but not enough. The Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey league may need to expand as well.

Will the league push for sensible arena deals?

The biggest bar to success off the ice to teams in the last twenty years has been being shackled to a poor arena deal. The New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets and other teams have suffered, and the league would be better if they hadn’t. Teams that control their arena control their destiny.

Can we please ensure catchy names for the teams?

This is really a marketing issue. The Minnesota Wild have superb fans and the single dumbest name in professional sports. Seriously, the Wild Hunt would have been cool, the Wild Hogs or Wild Dogs or Howe help us all the Wildcats would have been acceptable too, but just “wild” is so bland the team might as well not have a name. New teams in a market that may or may not have a strong hockey tradition will need marketing to start at point zero and that is the name.

With expansion will the league make better use of the NHL network?

Currently there is not an NHL game on the NHL Network most nights of the season. That’s just baffling. The more exposure various teams get, the more they can charge for in arena marketing the better the league does. The more people who can keep up with teams outside their area, the better. Even if the league goes to 40 teams in the next decade, that’s only 40 teams with 360 or more people, 60+ states, provinces, and territories and that’s means a lot of cities still won’t have a local team.