Without much fanfare on Thursday, the NHL announced that they've signed a television deal with Modern Times Group, which will broadcast games in four hockey-mad Nordic nations: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark.
Games will be broadcast across both pay and free channels in the four countries over the next five years, and games will also be streamed live over the Internet.
The deal covers every regular season game and every Stanley Cup playoff game, and while not every game will be available for free, there will still be NHL hockey all over television in each of these countries for the next several years and likely beyond. The league is even producing a daily highlights show.
It's a huge step forward in terms of the NHL's footprint in Europe, and when combined with the NHL Premiere games that have kicked off the last several seasons in Europe over the last several years, as well as the six foreign-language versions of NHL.com that have launched this season, it's clear that the league is making a concerted effort towards reaching out to these fans.
It's crazy to think just how far the league has come in just the last two decades. I can't help but think back to this quote in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in June 1991, part of a story on why the Flyers selected Swedish star Peter Forsberg in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
"We tried very hard to talk ourselves out of (taking Forsberg)," [general manager Russ] Farwell said. "Every time it came up, we stated the other guys who were available. We kept coming back to, 'Geez, he's from Sweden.' But we didn't have one guy who had a negative thing to say about him. Finally it just came down to, 'What are we doing? We clearly covet this guy and think he's the best player, and yet because of the surprise part of it . . . ' We were very, very confident that the guy would help us."
Geez, he's from Sweden. The surprise part of it.
Nobody really knows what a Swedish player is really like. A bit of a mystery. That's the implication there.
Now, the NHL will be broadcasting live games in Sweden, as well as three other Nordic countries. Kids in those countries will grow up watching the NHL, even if they have to watch recorded versions of the games before school in the morning. Gone are the days when European players are mysterious guys who are unknown in the NHL, and gone are the days when Europeans don't know about the Detroit Red Wings or even the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Slowly but surely, the gap between European hockey and North American hockey is closing, and this is just the next step in that progression.
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