There were some strong words from Rene Fasel, the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, during the second day of the World Hockey Summit Tuesday in Toronto.
Specifically, Fasel had some pointed comments about the NHL looking to muscle into the lucrative European market that provides the life-blood from which the IIHF drinks lustily.
Take it away Rene…
"Try to come. Good luck. This is our territory and I will fight like hell and not allow anybody to come from abroad," Fasel said. "I think in Europe, we are strong enough to do something on our own, and then have the competition between Europe and North America.
"I don't think an NHL division in Europe would fly. If they have a lot of money to invest, they could try, but as long as I'm sitting in my chair, I would never allow it to happen."
Move over Stallone, Statham, Li, Couture, Austin, Lundgren - there's a new "Expendable" in town.
Not that the NHL has European expansion on any front burner, (heck they still have domestic issues to be sorted out in locations like…oh, I don't know…Phoenix?) but that's not to say that Europe hasn't and isn't a market the NHL covets.
Right now the market isn't there for the NHL and we all know that. The rinks aren't big enough, the economies of the league aren't sympathetic with what Europeans are used to paying for hockey, travel costs are sky high (to say nothing of competitive balance issues that come along with some teams making the Euro jaunt more than others) and hey, how do you tell a kid from Kamloops he's just been drafted by the Munich Maulers and better start brushing up on his German?
But those Euro hockey fans sure do know how to buy jerseys and hats and pins and just about anything else the NHL sells these day, and with a strong brand presence in Europe the league is able to hock its wares without the pesky issue of running a full schedule in those markets.
Wanna sell some jerseys in Sweden? Just parachute the Detroit Red Wings in for a couple of games against the St Louis Blues and watch the #5 and #40 sweaters fly off the rack.
Expansion in Europe? A long-shot and not on the immediate radar (by the way how'd you like to be a hockey fan in Winnipeg or Quebec City hearing all this talk about NHL teams in Stockholm and Helsinki?) but it's always been an intriguing possibility for the NHL as it looks to cement itself as the premiere international hockey brand.
As I write this I can't help but think about 1995 and the discussions outlining how the NHL and IIHF could work together in creating a joint venture called the European Hockey League (EHL). There was much talk between the two groups about how a Pan-European hockey league could be formed.
We go back to a March 14, 1995 meeting in Genva with Steve Solomon, Skip Prince, Bryant McBride and Guido Tognioni representing the NHL and their counterparts on the IIHF side, including Rickard Fagerlund, Kalervo Kummola, Erich Wuthrich, Jan-Ake Edvinsson and Kimmo Leinonen.
A lengthy discussion, which resulted in numerous follow-up correspondences discussing a study put together by McBride and Brad Kwong of the NHL office dealing with how the IIHF (with Kimmo Leinonen, IIHF PR and marketing manager as point person - under Rene Fasel's leadership as IIHF president) could work with the league to create two European organizations.
One would be an expansion-based "Introduction to hockey" model featuring teams from Western Europe while the other would be a Super League consisting of interlocking play between past champions and top teams in major European elite leagues (Finland, Sweden, Russia, Czech Republic, German and Switzerland - Slovakia is listed as a "possible"). The merging of the EHL and Super League being the end goal out of all of this to be jointly administered by both the NHL and IIHF.
Sure, times and circumstances change as they clearly have in this scenario but while so much talk at this World Hockey Summit has been about bringing organizations together for the "good of the game" it was a little jarring to hear the head of the IIHF treat Europe as his mafia fiefdom.
Maybe it's time to get out of the olive oil business.
Oh, and in case you'rr wondering, the proposed franchise locations for the EHL were Paris, Milan, Manchester, London, Dortmund, Barcelona and Munich.
Wednesday at the Summit we'll hear an autopsy on the Vancouver games from both the hockey and business perspectives, so expect more discussion about everyone's favourite topic: "Sochi 2014: Will they or won't they?"
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will also host a Q&A. I'm sure he'll be ready to swing back at Fasel over his Johnny Drama tough guy rap.