IIHF president Rene Fasel turned some heads at the World Hockey Summit earlier today with his response to a question about a future European division of the NHL.
“Try to come. I will fight like hell and not let anybody come from abroad. I think we are strong enough to do something on our own, and then have the competition between Europe and North America. That makes the fans happy. It’s the old story, like the 1972 Summit Series with Canada versus the Soviet Union. That was Europe versus North America. I don’t think an NHL division in Europe would fly. As long as I’m sitting in this chair, I would not allow that.”
But while that statement got attention, the reality is that it is barely relevant. The NHL likes to talk about adding a European division, but despite sending teams to play the odd game or two at the start of the year, the possibility of having teams there full-time remains years in the future. The logistics of such an expansion are formidable, and it’s difficult to see where the money’s going to come from to pay for that kind of travel. On the other side of the ledger, it’s hard to see what Fasel would be able to do to stop such expansion, particularly if the NHL engaged in a partnership with current top leagues in Europe.
Also of note is Fasel’s take on international tournaments. He spoke about the Olympics, the World Championships and the World Cup, and was quoted on the IIHF’s official site.
On the Olympics:
“We do it for the fans, and they can see what happened in Vancouver. It was the best-ever tournament…”
“I think the NHL has a great exposure. Everybody knows the NHL is at the Olympics, and it’s the best promotion for the league, the game, and the players.”
On the World Championships:
One case in point: the importance of the annual IIHF World Championship, which attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators each year. “Here in North America, you don’t understand what the World Championship means,” Fasel said. “It’s a celebration of the game at the end of the season. It’s not a big money thing. The budget for the organizers is 20 million Euros. They can make some profit, but not much. Half the money goes back to the federations.” With 30-some tournaments each year that need to be subsidized, Fasel said, the World Championship is an essential part of growing the game in the 69 member countries of the IIHF.
On the World Cup:
Fasel offered a qualified endorsement of future World Cups of Hockey, noting that it’s important not to overtax the players with too many games.
The difference between those three tournaments? The Olympics and World Championships are administered by the IIHF, while the World Cup is administered by the NHL. That’s why the Olympics are essential, the World Championships are a celebration of the game and are underappreciated, but the World Cup is nice but it must be balanced against the need player’s have for rest.
In a lot of ways, Fasel’s the European equivalent of Gary Bettman: he takes a lot of flack, but he’s doing his job. Unfortunately, like Bettman, Fasel’s job isn’t to protect the good of the game, but to protect a particular group of interests. In Bettman’s case those are the interests of NHL owners, while in Fasel’s case those are the interests of the European equivalents of Hockey Canada and USA Hockey. All of Fasel’s statements today showed that mindset, and like Bettman, Fasel needs to be viewed with suspicion when he starts talking about the good of the game.