The NHL is sending four teams to Sweden next season, with the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators taking part in Global Series games there in November.
The league on Wednesday announced its second and final venture outside North America in 2023: a game each day in Stockholm from Nov. 16-19. The Los Angeles Kings and Arizona Coyotes are set to play two exhibition games in Melbourne, Australia, in September.
The NHL is trying to significantly expand hockey interest Down Under while also cultivating and growing an already fervent fanbase in Scandinavia and across Europe. David Proper, the league’s senior executive VP of media and international strategy, knows they present different dynamics.
“A lot of the people that may go to this for the first time in Australia are going because it’s an event — a North American professional sport is playing in Australia — and what we need to do is convince them that this is a sport worth following, that it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s the kind of sport they can get involved in,” Proper said. “In a place like Sweden, you’re really dealing at a different level. You’re not trying to explain the sport. You’re trying to polish the sport and the brand to the fanbase there and get casual fans to become avid fans.”
The NHL is returning to Sweden for the first time since before the pandemic, when Buffalo and Tampa Bay played games at what is now known as Avicii Arena. The Red Wings will face the Senators on Nov. 16 and the Leafs on Nov. 17, while the Wild will face the Senators on Nov. 18 and the Leafs on Nov. 19.
Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin, Joel Eriksson Ek and Filip Gustavsson and Toronto’s William Nylander get the chance to play an NHL game in their home country for the first time. The league chose the Wild, Maple Leafs, Red Wings and Senators not only for their current volume of Swedes but the organizations’ history of them, including Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Henrik Zetterberg and Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson.
Having four teams in one building in Sweden could also provide a blueprint for staging the World Cup of Hockey, which the league and NHLPA still hope to do in 2025 after scrapping plans to hold it next year.
Each international trip presents its own challenges, including a new one last year when San Jose and Nashville went to Prague several months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Prominent Czech Hall of Fame goaltender Dominik Hasek voiced opposition to the teams bringing Russian players, which they ultimately did, and Proper said similar concerns have not been raised by Swedish officials regarding next season. Minnesota winger Kirill Kaprizov and Ottawa defenseman Artem Zub are the Russian players under contract for next season among the teams going to Sweden, and Toronto could bring back goaltender Ilya Samsonov.
Going to Australia is a tougher sell than Europe, given the travel and time commitment required. After initial rumors indicated Boston would be facing Los Angeles, it’s instead Arizona.
“Being on the West Coast certainly helps in terms of shortening the trip, but I also think they saw them as a good team bonding experience,” Proper said. “The idea of taking people abroad early on in the preseason, particularly to someplace that can be a once-in-a-lifetime-experience trip, is a really good way to get the team to bond, spend time together and really come out of the gates in a good place.”
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Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press