Beezer's NHL Euro fantasies

STEVE BUFFERY, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 PM ET

I’ve told a few friends that when I retire, I want to move somewhere up north.

Not because I’m enamored with ice fishing or black flies. It’s just that when I’m no longer capable of going to the bathroom without a plunger and a guide dog, I want my daughter Bubba to come up and put me on an ice flow.

And if know Bubba, she’d do it without batting an eye.

And speaking of which, it’s time the NHL took the ice flow route in terms of dealing with their diseased franchises — Atlanta, Nashville, Florida and Phoenix — and relocate them to Europe.

As it is, there is nothing more exhausting than that endless debate about the NHL’s attendance woes and the weak franchises in the southern United States.

The NHL is never truly going to take wing in terms of reaching its full potential as a league until the issue is put to bed once and for all.

The negative attention is a permanent drag on the sport.

Hockey coverage in the States generally centres around two issues: Fighting and attendance. It seems to me, most sports journalists south of the border who don’t like hockey, and most of them don’t, take great glee in rehashing the NHL’s attendance problems. That, and fighting.

You gotta love a society that is obsessed with guns but are mortified when a couple of hockey players drop the gloves.

By relocating to Europe, you kill that debate once and for all.

The boys on the Hotstove on Hockey Night in Canada touched on European expansion last Saturday and most hockey people seem to be for it, although the absolutely wrong thing to do would be expanding overseas by adding more teams.

The talent pool in hockey is limited, compared to say soccer, basketball or even baseball, warm weather sports where anyone can play without expensive equipment or venues. Only so many countries, Canada, the U.S. a few places in Europe, have decent participation numbers.

There are too many teams as it is in the NHL now. Take a look at the third and fourth lines on the weaker clubs.

The answer is, shut down the teams in the south, the teams where attendance will always be a problem, and find a way to move them to the major centres in Europe, where they actually like hockey.

What a concept, eh?

No matter what Gary Bettman says, Americans in the south just don’t like or get hockey, and that’s never going to change. This season, there are five NHL teams drawing crowds less than 90% capacity.

The Coyotes, despite their surprising success on the ice, are drawing less than 12,000 a game.

The New York Islanders and Colorado Avalanche are also struggling, but with decent teams and decent buildings, they’re viable franchises.

It’s time to start a European Division, with teams in the hockey capitals of Europe — Stockholm, Helsinki, Moscow, Prague, Berlin and perhaps Zurich. If my old friend George Gross was alive, he’d probably argue Bratislava as well.

Hockey will never be the No.1 game in Europe, football (soccer) will always be. But unlike Nashville or Phoenix, there are centres where hockey is important.

There are plenty of teams in European professional leagues now that average 95% capacity or better, teams such as Eisbaren Berlin (99%) in the German League, Kometa Brno in the Czech League (99.4%) and Salavat Yulayev in the Russian League (98.1%).

I truly believe that if you bring the best league in the world to these markets, attendance would never be a problem. Hell, S.C. Bern in the Swiss league is averaging 15,709 per game, that’s more than ELEVEN teams in the NHL, with an inferior product.

Imagine the excitement of an NHL where you’d have four strong divisions, Europe, Canada, the U.S. West and U.S. East — and whenever people talk hockey, it isn’t about attendance problems.

As far as logistics ... well, how about each North American-based team making one swing through Europe each season?

They land, get two days to adjust to the time zone, and then play back-to-back games in each city with two days off in between.

Why isn’t that doable? A flight between Florida and Vancouver or Boston and L.A. isn’t much shorter than a flight between an team in the U.S. east and western Europe.

I honestly believe that if Bettman and the board of governors could pull this off with some creative thinking.

The NHL was ahead if its time in bringing players over from Europe.

They could be cutting edge again.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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