NHL players down to last chances to play overseas
By ERIC DUHATSCHEK
Wednesday, February 2, 2005
The Swedish Eliteserien became one of five leagues in Europe to shut
its doors to National Hockey League players on Monday, when the final
transfer window of the season closed without any big-name players
The other destinations that will be off limits to locked-out NHL
players are Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. The
transfer windows have already closed in France, Italy and Russia,
meaning only two countries, Switzerland and Germany, remain as
possible destinations for NHL players seeking employment elsewhere if
the 2004-05 NHL season is cancelled.
In Sweden, the talent level actually went backward because two of its
most prominent imports, Marian Hossa of Mora and Marian Gaborik of
Farjestads, returned to play for Dukla Trencin, their club team in
Hossa and Gaborik started the year in Trencin, playing on a line with
Pavol Demitra, who stayed put during the lockout (and, as a result,
is the runaway scoring leader), but promised they would return for
the final month and playoffs.
Hossa went to Mora so he could play part of a season with his younger
brother, Marcel, and he was dominant. On a points-a-game basis, he
was the top player in Sweden. Mora, which made it to the Eliteserien
last season after a lengthy absence, started the season strongly,
thanks mainly to the play of Shawn Horcoff, an Edmonton Oiler, and
Daniel Cleary, a former Oiler, but has been slipping in the standings
of late, falling to seventh place.
However, with only eight games left in the regular season, it looks
as if Mora will hang on to a playoff spot, if only because one of its
major competitors, Sodertalje, also lost its key import, Olli
The Florida Panthers' forward left the team to play for IFK Helsinki
in Finland, his third team of the season. He started the season
playing for Kloten in Switzerland. IFK also added the Calgary Flames'
Toni Lydman yesterday.
Sodertalje did sign two NHL players, the Chicago Blackhawks' Kyle
Calder and the San Jose Sharks' Scott Thornton, but it remains to be
seen whether their presence can overcome Jokinen's departure.
Right now, Sodertalje, defending champion HV71 and Lulea HF are
locked in a tight battle for the eighth and final playoff spot, with
HV71 holding a four-point lead (teams earn three points for a win).
Brynas, the team that employs the Ottawa Senators' Chris Phillips,
added the Atlanta Thrashers' Ronald Petrovicky to go along with the
Oilers' Marc-AndrÃ© Bergeron as it jockeys for a playoff berth. To
replace Gaborik, Farjestads signed the Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Johnson,
the former Toronto forward. Johnson missed almost all of last season
because of injury.
Meanwhile, Modo -- Peter Forsberg's team -- added one more prominent
defenceman by signing Atlanta's Frantisek Kaberle from Kladno of the
Czech League. Earlier, the New York Islanders' hard-shooting Adrian
Aucoin had joined the team at the same time as Markus Naslund, his
former teammate with the Vancouver Canucks.
Even though it looks as if Forsberg will miss the rest of the season
because of wrist surgery, Modo thinks it can compete for a
championship because of its extensive cast of NHL players, which also
includes Vancouver's Sedin twins and the Islanders' Mattias
Weinhandl, who leads the league in goal scoring. Because Swedish
teams can deploy only two North American imports, Modo released Bryan
Muir to play for Espoo in Finland and kept Dan Hinote.
Perhaps the most interesting addition was Ulf Dahlen. An assistant
coach with Sweden's World Cup team, Dahlen announced he would make a
comeback with Timra, but only if the lockout ends. That would provide
third-place Timra with some insurance in case its two key imports,
the Detroit Red Wings' Henrik Zetterberg and the Tampa Bay
Lightning's Freddie Modin, bolt for North America. Timra is also
relying on the goaltending of Miikka Kiprusoff, who helped get the
Flames to the Stanley Cup final last season.
Meanwhile, last-placed Malmo added two players -- Atlanta's Shawn
McEachern and the Philadelphia Flyers' Radovan Somik -- to prepare
for its battle to stay in the Eliteserien. Unlike the NHL, the bottom
two teams in the league must eventually enter a playoff round against
the top two teams in the second division in order to keep their spots
in the higher league. In the NHL, teams hopelessly out of the playoff
race would be dumping bodies left and right, but in Sweden, the
It is also why Skelleftea, a second division team, added New York
Rangers goaltender Mike Dunham for the stretch drive (which will bump
Sean Gauthier, a Canadian goaltender) to the sidelines. Skelleftea is
in a battle to move up in the standings (Leksands leads all
In the fish-completely-out-of-water department, the Oilers' popular
tough guy Georges Laraque will join one of the most venerable teams
in Sweden, Stockholm AIK, which is effectively in the third division
(officially Division 1B) after falling on hard times in recent years.
Trevor Kidd, the Toronto Maple Leafs' back-up goaltender, also joined
Orebro, a team in the same division.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the teams at the top end of the Eliteserien
stood more or less pat. The Canucks' Brendan Morrison returned to the
Linkoping lineup on Monday after recovering from an injury, and he
played well in a 4-1 win over Sodertalje.
After adding Daniel Alfredsson to a lineup that was already running
away with the regular-season title, Vastra Frolunda, the Goteburg-
based league leaders, made no further changes.
At this stage of the game, all that's left to determine is what
happens next with the NHL lockout. If it ends, up to 100 players in
Sweden will be bolting for home.