Opinions mixed on NHL expansion into Europe Staff

10/5/2008 5:54:36 PM

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk has no doubt that - sooner rather than later - the National Hockey League will be expanding into Europe.

"There are a lot of logistical issues from arenas to how we set up the schedules," Melnyk told reporters in Stockholm over the weekend. "But it's happening and it's going to happen. Absolutely and irrevocably I am committed that my vote is in for European expansion."

However, not everyone - including NHL commissioner Gary Bettman - is as bullish on locating teams across the Atlantic Ocean.

"Mr. Melnyk was not voicing an official league position," he explained. "We want to develop a more permanent, more regular presence in Europe, (but) permanent doesn't necessarily mean franchises on the ground or ever."

By contrast, NHL Players' Association Executive Director Paul Kelly was more supportive of Melnyk's remarks, going so far as to establish a probable timeline for such a venture to happen.

"That door is definitely not closed - we are studying it," he said Sunday. "I don't think it's around the corner, but I could see it longer term by five, 10 years down the road."

Not surprisingly, people around the league have wide-ranging views on the subject. The NHL's success this week in both Prague and Stockholm has many believing in the real possibility of expansion. While the league takes its time discussing the viability of permanent expansion into Europe, Bettman has already said the league is committed to bringing back at least four teams - if not more - next season.

"I think we could have sold out the whole week," said Pittsburgh Penguins president David Morehouse. "I think people here are crazy about hockey. I think they love the NHL."

However, trying to comprehend making it work is a gargantuan task in itself.

"To have a regular season all the time I think it would be a little tricky," said Senators centre Jason Spezza. "Obviously, the passion and fans are here, (but) the geography doesn't work."

Should the league make a decision to expand overseas, there are several different avenues that can be taken. The NHL could set up a European division, arrange an uber-final between the Stanley Cup champion and a European champion or set aside an NHL vs. Europe series. Either way, it would mean more travel for players.

"You just can't go back and forth with the six-to-seven (hour) time difference," said Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu. "You have to get the right teams and right cities."

And what about the opinion of the league's premier player?

"It's definitely a possibility and something that's been talked about a lot," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. "But I'm sure there is a lot of thought before you can make any big decisions like that."

Written with files from TSN's Brent Wallace.