NHL’s European Tour Shows League Where It’s Loved

PHILADELPHIA - MAY 05: Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wachovia Center on May 5, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Bruins defeated the Flyers 4-1 to take a three games to one lead in the series. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

The more I think about the structure of the NHL, the more I think it needs to be more of an international institution.

We have six NHL teams starting the season in Europe this year: The Hurricanes and Wild are in Helsinki, the Blue Jackets and Sharks are in Stockholm, and the Bruins and Coyotes are in Prague.

These season-starting European excursions are popular in the European cities because there’s usually at least one NHL player with a connection to the city.

Read about Zdeno Chara’s history with Prague, the city he was transferred to as a teenager.

Where there weren’t many scouts in Slovakia, where Chara played for his hometown team, there were tons in the Czech Republic and Chara eventually found himself drafted by the Islanders.

He didn’t spend much time in the Czech Republic but the city obviously holds a lot of memories for him.

He’s just one of hundreds of NHLers with that kind of emotional connection to a European city.

And the connection goes from the cities to the NHLers, too.

Apparently Shane Doan, born in Halkirk, Alberta, is beloved in Latvia. I’m assuming it’s because he’s played there with Team Canada a couple of times, but otherwise I’m not sure why they love him so much. Unless Shane Doan means something dirty in Latvian.

And even here in North America, we have the NHL’s very own Joe Sakic hoping the NHL returns to Quebec. And we have the NHL’s very own Patrick Roy possibly considering being involved in that return.

You have the NHL failing in a bunch of cities and you have a bunch of cities, both in North America, but also around the world, that are very interested in the NHL.

Establishing an NHL presence in Quebec is simple.

Establishing an NHL presence in Europe is complicated. The logistics would be horrible. But it’s worth investigating and exploring.

If successful, the NHL could become a world power, making its diminished popularity in the U.S. a non-issue.

Maybe it’s time for the league to go where it’s wanted.

Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.