The NHL Premiere Series is taking place this weekend in Sweden, Finland and Germany. This is the fourth straight year that Gary Bettman and company have taken its product overseas. Has the Premiere Series run its course, or should it still be a yearly event? Carolyn and I debate… They should definitely continue By Carolyn Christians
Absolutely, yes. Unlike NFL football, and to a lesser degree Major League Baseball and NBA basketball, hockey is truly an international sport. The heritage of many of the League’s most talented stars can be traced back to Sweden, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and so on across Europe.
Certain clubs often draw on certain nationalities more than others and that becomes part of their identity. Think of the Capitals and their Russians, Carolina and Minnesota and their Finns, and for years, the Red Wings have always a healthy helping of Swedes. It’s a part of what makes hockey what it is. It’s what sets the NHL head and shoulders above all the rest of the professional hockey leagues, because these are the best players in the world and the standard by which all other leagues are measured.
With the internet and other new media making international followings easier than ever, the NHL is smart to embrace those fans located in Europe. Though it is based in North America, the NHL is their top hockey league too. While the European Leagues are popular, the talent showcased nightly in North America is without equal. The more fans the NHL can draw into watching the games and, by extension, buying the merchandise, the better for the bottom line.
But these European tours are important for North American fans too. The Premiere games have become a way to acknowledge international quality we see nightly in the U.S. and Canada. These hockey heroes in the New World are in fact children of the Old. We saw this week that Henrik Lundqvist and Teemu Selanne, despite all the accolades they get in New York or L.A., are far bigger celebrities in Stockholm and Helsinki.
What better way to showcase our top European players’ significance in the sport than by giving them a chance to play in front of their countrymen. It’s teary-eyed, lump-in-your-throat drama that makes for great television. It reaches powerfully to each individual team’s fanbase at the most grass roots level, as it does for the broader general audience perceptions, with overtones of the Olympics, contrasting sharply with the more simplified Americana that is NFL or MLB.
Yes, the travel is tough and the logistics are tricky; but the positive perceptions that are gained for the players, the fans and the League are beyond measure and long lasting. As long as the European arenas are full and the players are willing, let’s keep it going. The NHL is not like any other league.
Events that enhance and celebrate the character and history of the sport of hockey deserve enthusiastic support from all of us.
Get rid of the overseas games in-season By Ryan Porth
The NHL Premiere Series was a stale idea, oh, about two years ago.
It didn’t take long for the event to get old. Aside from the European players that get to play in front of family and friends, most others don’t like the concept of opening the season thousands of miles away from home. As Bobby Ryan told RLD last year at this time, it’s a “nightmare” from a logistical and health standpoint. For everyone involved, it takes more than just a few days to get re-acclimated in North America.
At this point, there’s no need to sell the NHL product in Europe, particularly in Sweden and Finland. The NHL – and more importantly, the sport of hockey – is popular in those countries. I can understand the NFL wanting to sell its game in England annually, but the NHL doesn’t need to in countries where a good handful of NHLers are born.
These games have a bland atmosphere. I’m sure Tyler Seguin thoroughly enjoyed scoring his first ever NHL goal last year in an arena where everyone clapped, but few cheered and fewer rose to their feet. The neutral atmosphere doesn’t give the game the feeling of a regular season contest – at all. Additionally, the games are taking place in the middle of the afternoon here in North America, meaning most fans of these teams can’t watch their favorite team’s season opener.
Another negative with the Premiere Series is that teams are giving up home games in the process. This year, the Los Angeles Kings are playing two “home” games overseas. It’s a miniscule disadvantage, but that’s still two less home dates for the Kings this year.
If the NHL really wants to play games overseas, do it (early) in the preseason. Let the Swedes or Finns have their fun returning home, but give everyone involved a chance to get back to North America and prepare for the start of the regular season. And here’s the kicker: the atmosphere of the games won’t change in Europe. Those fans will still be just as excited to see Henrik Lundqvist and Nicklas Lidstrom return to Sweden, Teemu Selanne and Mikko Koivu return to Finland.
It feels like a gimmicky idea to send two, four or even six teams overseas to kick off their season. Though the European players love it, nothing much is gained from the Premiere Series. It’s something that should be moved to the preseason or eliminated altogether.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.