Home > Hockey > Why The NHL vs Europe Exhibition Experiment is a Bad Idea.

Why The NHL vs Europe Exhibition Experiment is a Bad Idea.


As mentioned last blog, The NHL’s New York Rangers, Anaheim Ducks, LA Kings, and Buffalo Sabres play a total of 7 exhibition games against teams in Slovakia, Switzerland, Germany, Finland, Sweden, and the Czech Republic before the NHL regular season gets underway. 

I think it’s a good concept; letting European fans see how their home teams stack up against teams from the best hockey league in the world.  But after EV Zug of Switzerland beat the New York Rangers 8-4 on October 3, I wondered, how can this possibly benefit the NHL at all?

The Swiss National League A (which EV Zug plays in) is no pushover of a pro hockey league; many former NHLers dabble in, or finish their careers there.  So you can make all the excuses you want – the Rangers played 4 games in 5 nights in 4 different countries (which they did, and that would be tough) and the other teams were well rested, jetlag, they played their pre-season roster, the European ice is too big (it is.), yadda yadda yadda; but at the end of the day, you have a team from the league recognized as the best in the world, not just beaten but routed, by a team from a relatively unknown league, comparatively.  All of a sudden, the best league in the world can’t be all that great because its teams are getting beaten by teams that are even lower than the NHL’s supposed European equivalent, the KHL.  And it doesn’t even matter that NHL teams win the other 6 games, because that’s what they’re expected/supposed to do.  Losing one game over there is a far bigger deal than sweeping every game they play and maintaining their hockey dominance.  The NHL has nearly nothing to gain (besides some minor fan support and merchandise/advertising sales, and having the players enjoying seeing the other side of the world or returning to their homeland) by playing these games and a lot to lose credibility-wise; European teams had nothing to lose and everything to gain.  The loss unnecessarily dropped the NHL down a few pegs on the international hockey landscape, and European hockey just gained a lot of cred in return.

And how in the world do some people from the NHL argue that they don’t want to send NHL players to the Olympics because of roster depletion, injury potential, and other nonsense; yet they won’t even blink an eye about sending 4 entire rosters of NHL clubs to Europe and exposing them to the potential of the very same pitfalls?       

Let’s be honest, as much as fans would like to believe professional sports leagues just want to treat them to competition featuring the best talent in sport, the league is in it to make money and sustain the multiple billions of dollars it has to hand out in player and staff salaries each year, bottom line.  I just don’t see how subjecting NHL talent/franchises to the potential of losing to teams in lesser leagues can be good for business.  The only way it really makes any sense is if the NHL has a serious plan to expand to Europe in the future.  If the NHL doesn’t plan to do this, the only reasons for them to be there in this capacity are either to:

1)      Crush European teams, and assert NHL dominance in hockey.

2)      Break the hearts of European fans as NHL clubs roll-over their hometown heroes.

3)      Milk all the merchandising and advertising sales possible out of a one-month promotion and playing schedule from a market that the NHL fears is cornered by European leagues. 

If an NHL club loses to any of these European teams, then all 3 points of this hat-trick attack plan are compromised.  After all, why would a hockey fan residing in Switzerland purchase an NHL pay per view broadcast, or plan a North American vacation and buy NHL tickets if they know their Swiss teams are better than NHL clubs?  And what Rangers fan is going to get more excited about cheering for his or her team knowing they get beat by Swiss teams?  What hope does that give them of their hometown team every winning a Cup again?   

As a fan, I think the European experiment is fantastic, and great for the growth of hockey, globally.  But let’s not kid ourselves, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t overly concerned about doing much for the game of hockey as he is making sure the NHL breaks into the American television market and makes a ton of money.  From that perspective, this move is quite a head-scratcher.   



  1. Charlie
    October 14, 2011 at 4:42 am

    I thing you are underrating the swiss hockey level, increasing each year. The ZSC Zurich from the swiss national league beat Magnitogorsk in the final of the European Champions league 2009 by 5-0 (after a first play ended in a 2–2 draw). That’s mean that a Swiss team became European Champion by crashing a KHL team 5 to 0!!!

    The international ice hockey federation (IIHF) organised the “Victoria Cup”, a former competition between THE european champion and a NHL team. That’s why ZSC Zurich played against Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks had to defend the honnor of the NHL league and they failed by losing 2-1 on September 29, 2009 in Zurich. And this play was no exhibition game at all!!!

    • October 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Charlie. I do not underestimate the Swiss level, as I know many former NHL players come to play in that league. It’s very exclusive, and they generally don’t take players with anything lower than AHL experience. Switzerland has emerged on the international stage as they’ve been appearing more frequently at the Olympics, and I know there’s good hockey there. BUT with that being said, when casual fans (in North America, at least) debate about the best hockey leagues in the world, the NHL is always at the top, and only recently has the KHL really been in the conversation as a contender. Many still don’t know much about the level of European hockey, which is definitely very good. Those same fans would bet on a NHL team to easily roll over a Swiss, Swedish, or Russian team, and as we saw with Zug beating the Rangers, it’s far from an automatic win for the NHL team. I don’t underrate Swiss hockey, but I know most people do.

      I didn’t know anything about the Victoria Cup, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I would say though that while it’s a fantastic concept for a tournament to determine a world’s champion of hockey, it’s hard to give that showdown a lot of credibility when it’s only been played twice, and occurs 3 months after the Stanley Cup has been awarded, during the NHL’s exhibition season, and the team’s rosters are often completely different from June. Both NHL teams that competed in it were not Stanley Cup champions when they competed, though Chicago did go on to win that season. And you forgot to mention that the Rangers won the first showdown in 2008. To me, this game should be played after the Stanley Cup Final, by the Stanley Cup winning team, with the same roster they won with; to make it seem legit.

      While these games make European teams look great (especially when they beat NHL teams), would you agree that it makes the NHL look worse when they are beaten by European teams??

  2. Charlie
    October 15, 2011 at 2:21 am

    On this point, I agree with you. The NHL still remains clearly the best league. The best swiss players aim at playing in the NHL. On the other hand, the swiss national league is one of the best european leagues and it would be wrong to sum up the european hockey to the russian KHL. Unfortunately, we have no “European NHL” for the moment.

    If you want to watch some parts of this Victoria Cup to make you your own opinion: http://www.tsr.ch/video/sport/834422-hockey-victoria-cup-zsc-lions-chicago-blackhawks-2-1-1-1-1-0-0-0.html

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