Though they won't be playing on the world's biggest stage come February, the NHL is still finding ways to return to the international stages.
Between September's China Games featuring Vancouver and Los Angeles and this weekend's Global Series between Ottawa and Colorado in Stockholm, the league is doing something it hasn't done since 2011 -- playing games outside of North America. The China Games marked the first time in 17 years that the league played in Asia (albeit in preseason games), while the Global Series exposes an international audience to some of the elite players they may not get to see on a regular basis (while playing in the delightfully quirky Ericsson Globe).
If the league is looking to re-broaden its international horizons, could the Flyers go on to be a featured club? It may not happen right away, but it's certainly an option to keep in the back pocket farther down the line.
One thing the Flyers have been very consistent at in their history is being among the league's most marketable and valuable clubs. Flyers hockey has been its own unique brand, and according to Forbes' most recent list of NHL valuations, their value of $720 million is good for sixth in the league -- ahead of clubs such as Vancouver, Detroit and even Los Angeles. Simply put, you don't get to that point without a hefty amount of international appeal.
Dating back to a Detroit-Montreal European tour in 1938, the NHL has made frequently-infrequent excursions to Europe and Asia to play several games. Most recently, the league opened with the NHL Premiere slate of games from 2007-2011, playing in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic, Northern Ireland and even Russia. The Flyers have played their fair share of European clubs (more on that in a bit), but have never left North America proper to play games. Exposing the Flyers to an international crowd certainly adds to their appeal, and would be a unique first for the franchise.
Most recently, the Flyers took the ice for an international game in 1991, when Dynamo Moscow came to town as part of a Soviet tour of North America. It's been a while since they had the fun of an international game -- to put in perspective, Eric Lindros wasn't even anywhere close to being a Flyer yet -- so an argument can be made that they are quite due-for.
One thing working against the Flyers, though, is their lack of European stars. It's no mistake the NHL picked the Avalanche and Kings for the Stockholm game -- Gabriel Landeskog and Erik Karlsson are among the biggest current Swedish stars in the game today. When the league went to Europe for the NHL Premiere games from 2007-11, teams like the Senators (Daniel Alfredsson), Anaheim (Teemu Selanne), San Jose (Dany Heatley) York (Henrik Lundqvist) and Boston (Zdeno Chara) would take part, because those players were among the biggest sporting names in their respective home countries.
Right now, the Flyers' biggest international star is Jakub Voracek (he's kind of a big deal), but aside from him, there's not a whole lot. Sure, as guys like Robert Hagg, Ivan Provorov, David Kase and Felix Sandstrom continue to grow, that will increase, but for now, their international stars are limited.
Of course, when you think of Flyers games against international opponents, the Soviet Red Army game of 1976 when the Flyers helped bring about the end of the Cold War rolled through CSKA Moscow with a 4-1 win. Nearly 42 years later, that game is still heralded amongst Flyers fans and the hockey community as one of the best international games of all-time. Watching the footage of that game never gets old, and there won't be another one like it for the Orange and Black.
It would be cool, no doubt, to see the Flyers take the ice on the international stage -- especially as they won't be able to do so when the Winter Olympics get up and running in February. But there's no real priority for them to do so. Watching their young guys get ready to prosper in the league helps out their appeal as well, and winning a Stanley Cup in the coming years would only skyrocket their appeal.