Once again, the National Hockey League is playing games across the Atlantic and, once again, the Nashville Predators are not involved.
“It should be a no-brainer for the NHL,” Filip Forsberg said.
This past weekend, the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils played a regular season NHL game in Gothenburg, Sweden and, next month, the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers will square off in Helsinki, Finland. All regular season games are part of the League’s Global Series.
Forsberg, an Ostervala, Sweden native, is among the numerous Predators players who would welcome the opportunity to play games overseas. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising as 43 percent of the current roster is made up of European players.
Kevin Fiala, a native of St. Gallen, Switzerland, is one of those.
“I would love to play back home,” the 22-year old said in an exclusive interview. “To play in front of family and friends would be awesome.”
The country of Switzerland may be about a four hour flight from Scandinavia but Fiala playing in his home country isn’t that far fetched. Prior to their tilt against the Oilers this past weekend, the Devils played an exhibition game against SC Bern in Bern, Switzerland as part of the Global Series Challenge.
Bern, by the way, happens to be very familiar to Nashville captain Roman Josi.
“That’s my hometown — and [Yannick] Weber’s hometown too,” he said. “We both grew up there so, for us, it’d be a lot of fun to play a game there for sure.”
With Josi, Weber and Fiala, it would make a lot of sense for the Predators to make Switzerland a stop in their 2019-20 pre-season slate.
Of course, Josi has a very unique perspective. On September 30, 2008, Bern hosted the New York Rangers and, as a 17-year old, he got the chance to play in that contest.
“I remember I was really nervous,” the Preds captain said. “The big New York Rangers were coming in. For me, as a young kid, it was just so much fun even though we lost 8-1. It was a great experience I’ll never forget.”
The Devils, Oilers, Jets and Panthers were selected to participate in the Global Series this season and the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators went over last year. It’s not hard to imagine why those specific teams were chosen as the Devils have Nico Hischier (Switzerland), the Oilers have Adam Larsson (Sweden) and Leon Draisaitl (Germany), the Jets have Patrik Laine (Finland), the Panthers have Aleksander Barkov (Finland), the Avalanche have Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden) and the Senators had Erik Karlsson (Sweden) at the time.
But what is the criteria for getting invited overseas beyond just European star power?
“At this point, I would say that selection of teams is determined based on a combination of things,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in an e-mail. “Club interest, diversity of representation by clubs in the League and the synergies of roster make-up with the markets in which we choose to play.“
Translating, I think it’s safe to say that “synergies of roster make-up with the markets in which we choose to play” is another way of saying “if you have European star power, we’re interested.” And with names like Forsberg, Josi, Fiala, Mattias Ekholm, Viktor Arvidsson and Pekka Rinne who better to represent the NHL in Europe than Nashville?
“I don’t think any of us ever dreamed of playing an NHL game where we grew up,” goaltender Juuse Saros, a native of Forssa, Finland, said. “But I think that would be something every guy would love to experience, playing in their home country.”
But it’s not as easy as the League simply announcing that they’re coming. There’s a lot more that goes into it.
“We do receive expressions of interest from markets and European Clubs having interest in hosting us,” Daly explained. “But, for the most part, we make decisions based on what cities and match-ups make the most sense from an interest standpoint.
“And logistics can be complicated — ensuring the right playing environment for our players, maximizing the quality of competition, providing minimum standard NHL amenities, resources and medical care, securing appropriate practice time and playing dates in the middle of the European team’s system, among others.”
If the National Hockey League has to jump through hoops in order to invite the Predators to play games on the other side of the Atlantic then so be it. The team would represent the League well and the guys would love the opportunity. In short, it’d be a win-win.
“We have so many European players so I think it would be a great idea,” Saros said. “People in Finland and Sweden would love to watch us play, especially since there are so many of us here.”
“I’m just waiting for those Swedish games to happen,” Forsberg added with a big smile.
Recent history shows us that the Global Series announcements are made in March. Could the 2019 announcement contain Nashville’s name?
“I expect the Predators will be a candidate receiving strong consideration for future participation in Global Series events over the next several years,” Daly said.
Well then make it so, NHL. Nashville is ready.