The NHL Global Series will return in 2022-23, with exhibition and regular-season games hosted in four European countries. Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the decision during his press conference at All-Star Weekend, with Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly underscoring the league’s commitment to expanding its footprint overseas.
“Internationally for us is a no-brainer,” Daly said on Friday. “We had established momentum in terms of having a greater and more regular presence of games in Europe. With the pandemic waning and hopefully a return to normalcy, it only makes sense to restart those efforts and to further them.”
Switzerland and Germany will set the scene for next season’s international preseason games, with Finland and Czechia hosting regular-season encounters. The NHL did not unveil teams, dates, or cities for the 2022-23 NHL Global Series, with other details to be announced.
The NHL Global Series Is a Gateway to Hockey Fandom
After the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) took to the ice in Dubai last December, it was inevitable that the NHL would soon announce its return to the international stage. Moreover, playing overseas is a vital element of the league’s long-term plan to reach new audiences in emerging markets, particularly in Europe.
However, the importance of the Global Series stretches beyond the NHL’s transient commercial interests – it’s key to growing the sport worldwide. Hockey is a North American endeavor at its pinnacle, with hints of European influence. Although the game, first popularised on outdoor Canadian rinks, is played around the world, there’s no doubt that the Stanley Cup, not Winter Olympic gold, is its ultimate prize.
As a result, the NHL has a duty to project its influence as far and wide as possible. When junior hockey players in Germany or Switzerland dream of a future in the sport, they think of what Leon Draisaitl and Roman Josi have achieved. In France and the United Kingdom, it’s Alexandre Texier and Liam Kirk. In Slovenia, it’s Anze Kopitar.
Everyone remembers their first game. Mine was a barnstorming contest between the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild. Anthony Duclair scored his first NHL goal, and the Rangers overturned a deficit of three to win 5-4. I was 14 at the time, knew very little about hockey, and spent half the game trying to spot the puck. Eight years on, I still smile from ear-to-ear when thinking about that night – a relatively inconsequential regular-season match. The program remains on my bookshelf.
You see, hockey is an incredibly attractive sport to newcomers. It’s breathtakingly fast, features some of the world’s best athletes, and requires extraordinary skill. Every time the NHL plays outside North America, it reaches a new audience and converts some of that audience into players of the future.
The NHL Global Series is important because it provides a gateway to hockey fandom outside of its heartlands. When the league’s stars take to the ice in Europe, first-time spectators outnumber long-term fans in the arena. If the debutants enjoy what they see, they might tune in to games on TV or watch their local side in the flesh. Either way, the sport wins.
Returning to Europe is the first step in expanding the NHL’s reach; there’s no reason why the league couldn’t be more ambitious in the future. Frankly, a world of opportunity awaits; it’s time for it to be grasped.
The NHL’s History of Playing Overseas
Although the Global Series is a relatively new creation, the NHL’s history of playing overseas dates back to 1938 when the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings took part in an eight-game trip across England and France.
The NHL returned to Europe 21 years later, with the Boston Bruins and Rangers completing a marathon, 23-game tour of England, Switzerland, France, Belgium, West Germany, and Austria. However, it took another 21 years for the NHL to venture overseas again – with the Washington Capitals and Minnesota North Stars participating in a five-game tournament against Swedish opposition in Stockholm.
Since 1980, the NHL’s stars have played in international games with increasing regularity – including during the 1994-95 lockout when Wayne Gretzky took an all-star team to play against opponents in Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Germany.
The NHL opened its regular season in Europe for the first time in 2007, with the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks playing a two-game series in London, England. A year later, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Rangers in Prague, Czechia, while the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins took to the ice in Stockholm.
Between 2007-2011 and 2017-19, the NHL hosted 32 preseason games and 28 regular-season games in Europe – the latest of which saw the Sabres lose to the Lightning in Stockholm. Six regular-season games took place in Japan between 1997 and 2000.
Only the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Dallas Stars, Vegas Golden Knights, Seattle Kraken, Canadiens, and Capitals haven’t played an international game since 1997.
Who Will Play in the 2022-23 Global Series?
Although the NHL held back from announcing the teams involved in the 2022-23 Global Series, several franchises are well-positioned to shine in Europe.
As the NHL is returning to Germany, it’s hard to look past the Edmonton Oilers as prime candidates for a spot in the Global Series. With Draisaitl, the nation’s best player, and Connor McDavid, the world’s best player, on their roster, the Oilers are the obvious choice. That said, the appeal of Moritz Seider’s Detroit Red Wings and Tim Sutzle’s Ottawa Senators mustn’t be overlooked.
Josi is the NHL’s star player from Switzerland, making the Nashville Predators an intriguing option for the Global Series, although the same applies to David Pastranak’s Bruins in Czechia. While the NHL isn’t short of Finnish star-power, Aleksander Barkov’s Florida Panthers and Mikko Rantanen’s Colorado Avalanche would be particularly intriguing to European fans given their recent success.
Regardless of which teams participate, the return of the NHL Global Series will give the sport a significant boost heading into 2022-23.
Luke is an award-winning sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals beat for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.