NOVEMBER 16, 2017 | 3:14PM ET
BY DAVID PAGNOTTA, The Fourth Period
HOW SWEDE IT IS; GLOBAL SERIES HERE TO STAY
TORONTO, ON -- The emergence of the NHL Global Series, which brought NHL action back to Europe for the first time in a few years, has re-opened the eyes of the League to playing meaningful games overseas.
Off the bat, the two games played in Stockholm on Nov. 10 and Nov. 11 between the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche were a success. The games were sold out, with all 13,396 seats in the Ericsson Globe accounted for -- which is impressive considering Sweden played Italy in a World Cup Qualifier on Friday, a game that started 45 minutes after puck drop and was 15 minutes away.
The games, which I had the privilege of covering alongside TFP Senior Writer Dennis Bernstein, were a big hit for the local community, and the popularity of the NHL spread across Europe, as fans from Finland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic dropped in for the action.
The NHL and NHLPA did a solid job in promoting the games overseas, and while that's most certainly their main objective, it would have been good for them to hype it up on our side of the pond -- a lot of fans weren't even aware the games were taking place in Sweden. But that's a quick fix, or at least a simple one. The League wants to promote its product overseas, and while it has absolutely no intension of considering expansion to the European market any time soon (more on that below), it understands how important regular games in various markets are to the global hockey community.
What's interesting to note is that in Europe, specifically, the NHL pushes not only the crest but the players, as well -- and that's where the NHLPA comes into play. For the European market, it's as much promoting the players as it is the league itself.
And while the League will dive deep into its analysis of how things went -- they're still conducting their post-mortem on the China games, though they'll return next season with two exhibition games with two new teams (the Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks want in) -- it's safe to suggest the Global Series will be back in Europe with at least two regular-season games next season.
"The demand for these two games, a little bit surprising to me," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in Stockholm last Friday. "Much higher than the last time we were here in 2011. The fact that in five, six years we're even more popular than before. . . a lot of it is because the League is in a better place."
Daly added that with more consistency, the hope is the popularity continues to rise and that allows the NHL and the NHLPA to spread the game to additional markets.
"What we've learned over time, and I think it's true for all North American professional sports leagues, you're not coming over here to run an event like this to make a lot of money," Daly said. "You're coming over to expose your sport, expose your brand, build your brand, and you're using the events, really, as the foundation of growing your business in other ways. . . You're trying to become more relevant and more important in these markets so that there is demand for the bigger NHL product, longer-term."
It's too early to determine whether the NHL will hit multiple markets next season, like it did in the past, but you can be sure Stockholm will be back on the list, along with the likes of Helsinki, Prague and Berlin, to name a few.
"We're trying to orchestrate a strategy that makes sense, create an interest here and create interest around the event," Daly added.
Don't expect these games to replace the All-Star Game, though. Not regularly, anyway.
"The All-Star Game is never going to disappear," Daly said. "It's an important part of our event calendar ever year. Obviously, we've replaced it on occasion with the Olympics. Certainly, can we miss a year or miss a couple of times over a 10-year period? Yes. You look at how best to fill that time period."
What could come down the road, though, is the World Cup of Hockey being played during the season -- or at least the playoff rounds.
Daly indicated the possibility of having some form of competition prior to the start of the NHL's regular-season, perhaps a preliminary round format, followed by a mid-season playoff to sub in for the All-Star Game.
"It's certainly something that's been thrown around," Daly confirmed.
Granted, this would be further down the line, but it would give everyone a break from the All-Star festivities and create some real in-season buzz to an international competition -- something the NHL is shying away from as Daly mentioned the nearly three-week break in their schedule is not favorable among its 31 ownership groups.
FUTURE ALL-STAR LOCATIONS?
It's something that will be reviewed again in the future, but expect San Jose to be in the running for an upcoming All-Star Game.
San Jose was in the running for this season's festivities and could be awarded the weekend event in 2019.
Toronto also made a strong pitch for the 2018 All-Star Game and will be back in the mix to host one in the near future, while Edmonton wants the event in either 2020 or 2021, once its Ice District is fully complete.
The NHL will be expanding to 32 teams in the relatively near future, that much is certain. Seattle remains in the NHL's minds for its 32nd NHL franchise, make no mistake, while Quebec City remains the backup option for last-resort relocation -- which the League insists isn't in the cards.
But the re-emergence of Houston has raised a lot of eyebrows.
And I said "re-emergence" because Houston has always been in the picture, dating back to the late 1990s and early 2000s. I've mentioned the city's interests over the years, but their biggest obstacle was finding an owner or ownership group willing to dig in and fight for a franchise.
Well, enter Tilman Fertitta.
Fertitta, a 60-year-old billionaire, owns the NBA's Houston Rockets, as well as Landry's, Inc., which owns Morton's The Steakhouse, Rainforest Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and McCormick & Schmick's Seafood & Steaks, among other chains.
When news got out that he's serious about bringing an NHL team to Houston, he released the following statement via social media early today:
"As I've mentioned before, I'm very interested in the possibility of bringing the NHL to Houston, but it will have to be a deal that works for my organization, the City, fans of the NHL throughout the region, and the NHL Board of Governors. We are in the very early stage of evaluating what opportunity may exist but look forward to a thorough process."
The NHL is listening -- has listened and will continue to listen. Is the League interested in Houston? You betcha. Are they interested in Houston over Seattle? I'm not so sure. But it does create the opportunity for a potential bidding war. Think $500 million for the Vegas Golden Knights was a lot? It's going to be higher for Seattle and/or Houston.
Seattle remains atop the list, and like Las Vegas, the NHL wants to be there. Heck, they wanted to be in Vegas for years, as well documented in this space. Seattle's up next. But any fumble, and Houston's ready to pounce.
We'll see a 32-team NHL in a few years. Will we see a 33 team League? Or 34? That might be a stretch, but there are now three markets in a position to house a franchise. And the NHL couldn't be more thrilled.