Perhaps the most entertaining football in all of Europe is played in Spain’s La Liga.
Canada has one player that can lay claim to play in the elite levels of La Liga, Julian De Guzman of Deportivo La Coruna. Along with De Guzman, Sweden’s national team player Christian Wilhelmsson is currently on loan to Deportivo and the two make for a dynamic midfield combo.
As recently as mid-March, Deportivo was in danger of relegation. Wilhelmsson joined midway through the campaign and since Deportivo has nearly run the table, so-to-speak. They are currently in 7th and nearing a UEFA Cup spot.
This past Saturday, La Coruna man-handled what was a substitute ridden FC Barcelona. Perhaps with their Champions League match in mind, skipper Rijkaard rested the likes of Xavi, Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi (Ronaldinho is injured and out for the season). Notwithstanding a substitute laden Barca is still a team to be reckoned with.
Even if they did have Thierry Henry, Carles Puyol, and Eidur Gudjohnsen, Deportivo’s performance was simply staggering. They would be challenging for a league title with Real Madrid had they played like this from season’s start.
Ranks the match performance by player:
Interestingly enough, Manchester United also lost on Saturday.
It will be a phenomenal match tonight at Old Trafford, and should Barca prevail, I like the idea that the Canada/Swede connection beat up on the Champions League finalists.
Fox Sports blogger Lyle Richardson (AKA: Spector) posted a story that didn't meet Fox's dubious standards of publishable content. It seems that they don't know Dick.
Like Tärnström's time in Edmonton, his name got a raw deal.
The tides haven't necessarily gone his way during his NHL career.
Tärnström has turned his sails back to Europe and will suit up the 08-09 seaons with AIK (Stockholm) in the Tier II Allsvenska. Though it may be a double step downward - out of the NHL as well as a step below the Elite Series - it is a promising prospect for his future. He returns to his so-called "mother-club" where he played 1992-2001.
OTHER NOTES: Edmonton Oiler Robert Nilsson scored and assisted yesterday in Sweden's 4-3 exhibition win over Latvia. The Latvians, who will play in Group B with the US, Canada and Slovenia, faced a 3-0 deficit after only 9 minutes. The Swedes will play a final exhibition match against the US April 27 in Portland, Maine.
TEAM SWEDEN ROSTER:
- 9 NHL players
- 15 Elite Series players
- 1 Allsvenska player
- 1 Russian Super league player
Youngest: Washington Capital forward (& finalist for the Rookie of the Year) Nicklas Backström (age 20.44)
TEAM CANADA ROSTER
- 23 NHL
- 2 CHL (1OHL, 1WHL)
- 1 US College
- 1 Russian Super League
Youngest: Uni. of Wisconsin (Phoenix drafted) forward Kyle Turris (age: 19.78)
Canada clobbered Russia in the gold medal game in the U18 world championships 8-0!
Ever since Rögle qualified for the 2008-09 season of the Elite Series, I’ve been toying with the idea of unofficially making them my team of choice in Sweden. After all, their logo has an uncanny resemblance to that of the glorious Edmonton Oilers.
Today, I learned of further details that only convince me more that an allegiance is brewing. Rögle has signed the Canadian-born twin brothers Cam and Chris Abbott.
It may be a stretch to suggest it, but I hereby make the case of their Oiler connections as follows:
- Though neither brother was ever drafted, both played with the Oil’s ECHL farm club the Stockton Thunder, albeit only 6 games between them (Chris 4, Cam 2).
- After bouncing about the ECHL (whimsical story told here), they became a powerhouse duo as part of the CHL Bossier-Shreveport Mudbogs. The Mudbogs support club call themsleves the Boilers.
- Now, each twin has signed a one-year contract to play in Sweden’s top hockey league with the Oiler, er, Rögle logo on their chest.
File under... to be continued.
This will be a rematch of sorts. Last year, Sweden's U18 team nailed Canada 8-3 in the Bronze medal game.
The Swedish line-up features a number of players eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry draft. The match-up should be a fine opportunity to get an idea of what is on offer. Most notably is Sweden's goaltender Jacob Markström. He acted like a brickwall during the relegation/promotion series and was a key element that kept Brynäs in the Elite Series.
update: Canada won 3-2 in what was apparently a stellar defensive battle. They play Russia for Gold on Wednesday.
The top two teams will play the 2008-09 season in the Elite Series. the other four are left to duke it out in tier II, Allsvenska. As stated in my previous post, the difference between the two leagues is not just the quality of hockey, but also a difference of SEK17.5Million ($2.9Million) in royalites. It will be quite a knock to the balance sheet to finish 3rd place tonight.
There are a dozen or more possible outcomes tonight so I won’t even speculate who will win promotion.
Since there is so little dividing the teams, I hereby offer my superficial storylines to why one should cheer for each team.
Brynäs IF: They have a long and storied tradition, a nice rink (in Gävle 180km North of Stockholm) and they are currently being coached by Leif Boork – whom they fired in November only to rehire a month ago. No Canadians are currently playing for Brynäs though they do have an 18-year old, 3rd string goalie named Jakob Markström acting more like a seasoned vet than a rookie.
Mora IK: Features Canadians Eric Beaudoin and Rob Hisey. With Leksand now eliminated, this team is the hope of Dalarna: the landscape of the giant horse.
Malmö IF: Features Canadians Cole Jarrett and Frank Banham. Malmö has been linked to Oiler farmboy Rob Schremp.
Rögle: Features 2006 Olympic gold medalist and former NHLer Kenny Jönsson as the cement that holds together their defence (and offence too). And hey, their logo looks like the Oilers logo.
Although this video seems to be a rip-off/ode to the Bob Dylan classic Subterranean Homesick Blues, I think INXS & Michael Hutchence were on to something with his whole “ate” rhyming sequence.
INXS likely didn’t have ice hockey, nor sport in mind when the composed this since they missed “Relegate” - though detonate is close. Their hockey fate… relegate or reinstate?
Right now a playoff series is on-going to determine who will play in next year's Elite Series. With only 2 matches remaining in the 10 game tournament, both Brynäs and Mora are on the outside looking in. Granted it is an extremely close race in the standings, but these two teams could well be playing next year in the Allsvenska.
Swedish professional ice hockey's system is played in what could be referred to as an open league. That is to say that any team can be promoted or relegated, up and down the various divisions. Similar to most international soccer (hereafter called football) leagues, a team can win division 2 which can mean promotion to division 1. Meanwhile the team that finishes last in division 1 will play next season in division 2.
North American sports leagues used a closed corporation of franchises and drafts to build their leagues.
Most of Europe's ice hockey is played in open leagues (eg: Switzerland & Russia) and Sweden is no different. Players develop primarily in local clubs and rise through the ranks to ultimately play for the "A" team. There are no drafts, and trades are rare.
AN OVERVIEW TO SWEDISH HOCKEY LEAGUES
(for an excellent map and overview by team, go here)
The intracacies of the Swedish hockey union (Svenska ishockeysförbundet) can vary from year to year. Here is the 2007/08 version:
- Elite Series (Elitserien) Tier I – Consists of 12 teams with a regular season of 55 matches – top 8 teams qualify for the playoffs. Teams finishing 11th & 12th face a relegation/qualification series versus 4 Allsvenska teams (see below). The Elite Series has been run as a commericially-focused organisation (called Svenska Hockeyligan AB) since 2001.
- Allsvenska Tier II – 16 teams play in a regular series consisting of 45 matches. The top 4 (3 +1*) teams qualify for a playoff tournament versus the 11th & 12th place teams from the Elite Series standings. The two best teams from this tournament win a spot in the next year's Elite Series. Meanwhile, the 15th and 16th teams of the Allsvenska standings face a relegation series vs. 4 teams from division 1. The Allsvenska is run by an organisation called AHF HockeyAllsvenskan AB.
- Division 1 or Tier III - (this is complex!) During 2007, 52 teams were geographically divided into 6 leagues (A-F). At the beginning of '08 the top teams sub-divide into North, Middle & South (called Allettan) and the remaining clubs make up Division 1 (A-D). Playoffs is an extremely complicated hodgepodge of playoff showdowns that then lead to more playoffs. Eventually, 4 teams earn a chance at the Allsvenska.
March 16, Swedish Television’s sports magazine Sportspegeln (discussion begins at approx the 15min mark in the program) outlined the financial chasm that is growing between the Elite Series and Allsvenska.
Plain and simple, it is becoming all the more vital to remain an Elite Series team, not for hockey but for economic reasons.
Operating an Elite Series team is expensive, but the benefits from TV rights and league payouts dwarf that received by Allsvenska clubs. The Sportspegeln story quoted royalty payouts of 18 million SEK (approx. US$3million) versus 400 000SEK (approx. US$66 000). Being demoted from the Elite Series means a US$2.4million cut to revenues!
*info from various sources including http://forums.internationalhockey.net/showthread.php?t=5178
HAVE AND HAVE NOTS
Based on the finances, one could summarize the Elite Series into large, medium and small clubs. Although only 12 clubs, the division is quite clearly delineated. Even if the Svenska Hockeyligan AB works for the equality and betterment of the EliteSeries, there are most certainly those who have, and those who have not.
NOTE: The list to the left is purely my assessment and opinion.
Teams do not freefall as easily in hockey as in football (As an example: Leeds United). Instead, teams fall simply by going bankrupt. Today's pro hockey is an exclusive group that harbour many costs and expenses in both minor and professional levels alike. Large and modern arenas, financial deep-pockets, and a deep talent pool are required to compete at the professional level. Like football, a strong financial backer is often, but not exclusively, what makes or breaks a club. It is therefore difficult for small clubs to rise into the highest league without the proper resources.
The larger question is perhaps: how much money exists in Sweden to support pro-hockey?
The weak sisters of the Elite Series - based on both competitiveness and financial gusto - over the last few years have clearly been Mora IK and Skellefteå AIK (SAIK), not surprisingly both small market teams. Although Mora and Skellefteå could be termed "hockey heartland", they have small arenas and draw from a very small, albeit loyal, group of citizens and sponsors. They both have strong development systems, though both are, in the grande scheme, financial minnows. Both clubs have had some luck with signing foreign players (Canadian players Eric Beaudoin & Rob Hisey play in Mora, and Kent McDonnell and Lee Goran play for SAIK) and improving their competitiveness. Though unfortunately, hockey is no longer based on talent alone and it is financial muscle and flexibility that lead to a yearly threat of relegation.
Mora is currently in the relegation/qualification series, along with an Elite Series stalwart Brynäs IF (of Gävle). Mora has, against all odds, managed to remain in the top series since 2003 though currently is on the outside-looking-in of the relegation/qualification series. With two matches remaining, Allsvenska clubs Rögle and Malmö sit ready to be in the big show in 2008-09.
Should either Mora or Brynas be relegated, it would mean in many ways tearing up the business plan and starting from scratch with players, sponsors, fans and realistic goals and objectives. Relegation is the metaphoric punch in the gut.
HV71 (Jönköping), Färjestad BK (Karlstad) and Frölunda (Gothenburg) lead the league in financial flexibility (financial capital). These teams, though they are equally susceptible to rising and falling in the yearly standings, outrank all others in economic stability. All three have modern arenas, capital funds, storied histories and strong sponsor partnerships. Hypothetically-speaking any of these club could probably weather a demotion to the Allsvenska, though they would likely incur substantial losses in order to achieve promotion back upwards.
Notably missing among the goliaths is big-city team Djurgårdens IF of Stockholm. Formerly a powerhouse, Djurgården has had to cut back in recent years and refocus efforts and finances. I suspect they will return as a power, though their two arenas - Globen is often too big and in use by other events, the alternative Hovet is old - lead split persona in respect to their game presentation.
Leksand is a goliath by Allsvenska standards. They have a storied history of developing players and as an organisation have achieved a number of successes. Strong financial backers assisted in the signing of one Edward Belfour to mind their net this year, in addition to 11 other foreign-born players - among them former Maple Leaf Rick Jackman and Czechs Roman Vopat and Michal Grosek). It remains to be seen if their heavy spending with net a promotion.
THE NEW WAVE
Linköping HC is the best example of a no-name club emerging out of seemingly nowhere. As recently as 1998 Linköping was not to be found on Sweden's pro hockey map. The Cloetta Centre was of the first new generation arenas to be built in Sweden and along with the new building, steady improvement on the ice and growth financially, LHC is a club that is now on the hockey landscape - including having reached the Elite Series finals for the second year in a row (loss last year to Modo).
By my count, four teams among the current Allsvenska have the wherewithall to play in the Elite Series – Malmö IF, Västerås IK, Leksand HK, and Rögle (Ängelholm). All four teams just so happen to be in the relegation/qualification series.
At the other end of the Allsvenska standings, other teams are simply fighting to not go bankrupt. As noted in the SVT Sportspeglen documentary, Nyköping HK (100km SW of Stockholm) has resorted to selling lottery tickets on the main street in order to raise money for a 2008-09 Allsvenska license to play.
And Nyköping is not alone in financial hardships. Hammarby IF finished last in the Allsvenska and shut the team down before the relegation/qualification tournament. Most recent talk is of merging with a minor league team in nearby Nacka in order to avoid bankruptcy.
In reference to the thin economic line of bankruptcy, Göran Forssberg, chairman of Nyköping HK was quoted saying "misstep and you can end up there".
How can the gap then be so enormous within Swedish hockey and what can be done?
THE FUTURE - GROW OR SHRINK
Money plays such a big part of today’s modern sport. Even if Sweden's league ranks among the best in Europe, it is still a relatively small country and resources are limited.
The entire sport of ice hockey in Sweden should be healthy and it is then the Swedish Hockey Union (ishockeyförbundet) who should actively unite Svenska HockeyLigan AB, AHF HockeyAllsvenskan AB and other partners to secure the health and, perhaps limit, the future size of Swedish hockey.
In my opinion, The Elite Series should be a closed league. The question is really at what size?
Currently there are 28 teams in the Elite Series and Allsvenska. By my count 14 are of Elite Series caliber. The Allsvenska should clearly be a development league and affiliations to Elite Series clubs, perhaps based on geography, should be established (all similar to the NHL-AHL model).
In this manner, Allsvenska clubs can aim for success of winning the league without the haunting worry of how to financially compete in the Elite Series the following year. The Elite Series then needs to clearly share the wealth to Allsvenska club as their development league.
Others think the Elite Series should be shrunk back to 1988 size of 10 teams.
Either way, there remain far too many unknowns and hypothetical than clear answers or direction.
THE FINAL TWIST IN THE ISSUE
In mid-February, the Ottawa Citizen published a story about globalization of the NHL. What is to say that one of the existing clubs could become a franchise in the NHL?
We are at a unique time in pro sports. The idea of a sustainable future is slowly sinking into the business practices of sport and managers, owners and fans discuss and debate the limits and long term life of their teams.
As for Brynäs IF and Mora IK, they simply need to win two matches each and hope for a few miracles in order to again play in Sweden's highest level of hockey. Otherwise, that 17.5million kronor difference in royalties to the bottom line will be quite the organisational motivation to get back in the bigs for 2009-10.