August 24, 2010

Fasel Steals Headlines, But Lener Delivers Real Story

So far, and to no one's great surprise except maybe the fools who paid $450 each to sit in the audience, the World Hockey Summit has produced lots of discussion without saying anything at all, and certainly with no progression.

You could almost say trying to get some real news out of this unnecessary Summit is as painful as pulling teeth. Which is why it is so fitting that a licensed dentist has made the biggest waves so far.

Rene Fasel (yes, he's a dentist) came out swinging today, particularly upset at the idea of National Hockey League expansion into Europe.
"Try to come. Good luck. This is our territory and I will fight like hell and not allow anybody to come from abroad. I think in Europe we are strong enough to do something on our own, and then have the competition between Europe and North America. That makes the fan happy. That's really what we should do.

"I don't think an NHL division in Europe would fly. If they have a lot of money to invest, they can try. But as long as I'm sitting in my chair I wouldn't allow it."
I nearly fell out of my chair because I was laughing so hard.

Fasel is a long time IOC stooge, known to be quite spineless when it comes to matters of importance in hockey. Under Fasel's leadership the IIHF does whatever the IOC tells it to do. The NHL tries to cooperate, but generally just bypasses him.

The Myth of NHL Expansion Into Europe

But once in a while Fasel lashes out, trying to change his reputation. The problem is he does it over complete non-issues. Non-issues like NHL expansion into Europe.

There has been talk about the NHL expanding into Europe since the 1950s. We are no closer today to heading overseas than we were six decades ago. The logistics just aren't there, and neither is the interest amongst NHL owners. They want to grow their presence in Europe (read that as they want increased merchandise sales from European fans) but there is certainly no imminent plan to create a NHL European division.

I would say we are at least still 20 years away from serious expansion talk into Europe, and probably longer than that. Rene Fasel will be long gone by then. He knows this as well as anyone, so he can safely "fight like hell" against the mythical notion of European expansion, impressing whoever it is he's trying to impress in Europe so that they think he has their best interests at heart, while still not offending anyone.

Interestingly, Fasel does not mind the NHL coming to Europe for training camps and Premiere regular season games. Why? European teams make a lot of money off of that. Come over, please, but just don't stay. He also hypocritically ignores the KHL's reported desire to expand throughout all of Europe.

European Player Development Challenges

Far more interesting was the Summit's discussion on European player development courtesy of Slavomir Lener. The Czech and Slovak hockey programs are in complete disarray. Much of European hockey at many levels are decimated by the recent global financial collapse. You know, stuff Rene Fasel should be concerned about.

Interestingly, the European contingent are upset that many of their top youth are leaving to play in Canadian junior leagues. That is completely understandable. They want their top players to develop at home, helping their domestic programs strong. There are many here in Canada who would rather see these top players stay home, come to the NHL when they are ready, but keep strong and varying brands of hockey from several different countries.

Puck Daddy's Dmitry Chesnokov passed on this interesting note on Twitter, suggesting that Canadian junior hockey is not necessarily developing European hockey players any better anyways:
Fun fact:of 226 prospects from former Soviet Union who played in Canada's junior leagues, only 12 made it to the NHL (per Igor Kuperman)
In fact, there are very European players who trained in the Canadian juniors and became NHL stars who can return home and lead their countries to international titles.

The CHL debate is a bit of a non-issue, too. Those European players come here by choice, or at least by the advice of their agents. It's not entirely about Canadian junior teams stealing these players. And Lener is the coach of the Czech U20 team. He wants access to his best players all season so he can better prepare for the World Juniors. Lener has his own agenda here, too.

The biggest problems facing hockey development in Europe lies in Europe, not Canada. They have to have the funding, the facilities, the education and the coaching. If that was all healthy and in place, European hockey development would be so much better off than it is right now.

A lot of this is cyclical, too. Canada faced it's own crisis in the 1990s. They went through their own summit, but made actual progress and decisions and it has paid off royally now. 

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