The commitment to bring the best players in the world to the biggest international platform for the game, the Winter Olympics, along with the immediate establishment for a World Cup of Hockey in 2012 will help grow the game to new heights. The reform of the current professional system is also crucial for the popularity of the game to grow.
Currently the NHL is regarded as the highest level of hockey, despite a perceived failure to expand in to what are considered non-traditional hockey markets in American cities like Atlanta, Nashville and Phoenix. There is a growing demand in traditional North American markets for new or returning teams. The highest competing professional league since the World Hockey Association flame of the 1970’s has changed the dynamic. Now the Kontinental Hockey League headed by Aleksander Medvedev and a fistful of Russian Oil Money has given mid-level Unrestricted Free Agents a better alternative financially, and is retaining high-level Russian and European talent. As well, the Swedish Elite League, SM-Liiga in Finland, improving Swiss Elite League, Deutsch Eishockey Liga and numerous European Pro Leagues provide alternatives to the NHL.
When failed U.S. markets like Kansas are being considered for a second tour of duty, the current system of NHL expansion is obviously flawed. Rather than try to translate professional hockey to markets that view it as wrestling on ice, why not make it work in smaller markets that are hockey crazy. Winnipeg and Quebec City lost teams in the 1990’s and deserve them back, the booming economy of Saskatchewan makes Saskatoon a viable option, the Maritimes are hockey mad and Ontario could support a team in Hamilton and perhaps a fourth even. Struggling NHL teams like Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta, Florida, Carolina and Tampa Bay could relocate to these locations and join the current six Canadian NHL franchises as the Canadian division of the NHL, leaving 18 teams in an American division. This would allow for expansion in to Canada, without destroying the NHL, and the NHLPA would be happy because no teams or jobs would be lost. Teams from the American and Canadian conference would face off for the Stanley Cup every year, which would guarantee a Canadian competitor in the final, something the current NHL CBA and Salary Cap era have made it near impossible to do. The two Stanley Cup Finalists could face off in an annual National championship against the KHL’s Gagarin Cup Winner, and the winner of a new European League Champion. Rather than expand to Europe, the impossible dream of the current NHL leadership, let Europe come to North America. This would also be a great boost for junior and development programs which have been depleted by the controversial allowance of Russian and European players in North American Jr. Hockey Leagues.
The creation of an international professional championship (no offense Spengler Cup), would give hockey yet another premier event to sell, and create new sponsorship and television in-roads.
It just makes sense.