A contingent of Swedish hockey officials spoke during the NHL General Managers’ meeting in Florida this morning, and asked that prospects not in the NHL be left in Sweden to further their development.
The four-man delegation, Tommy Boustedt (CEO) and Peter Forsberg (vice-president) of the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, and Jorgen Lindgren (CEO) and Johan Hemlin (head of hockey operations) from the Swedish Hockey League made the trek from Scandinavia to state their point.
Sweden contributes the third-highest number of players to the NHL currently, behind only Canada and the USA. They have about 75 active players in the NHL, with a further 60 in the AHL.
Swedish officials had a polite but clear message for GMs today: leave their young players in Sweden to develop. They don't want them in AHL— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) March 8, 2017
Lindgren explained the reason for their visit -
“The distance is not a problem. We’re more or less losing a (team’s worth of players) every year. It’s important that we have really good relationships and really good co-operation in developing the hockey program.”
That was not the full story though, as there is a financial angle to their wanting to keep their prospects at home too, as Boustedt explained -
“I don’t know if Swedes are a bit different than other people in the world, but Swedes are a little bit homebound.
“The main thing we’re aiming for is to be able to keep the Swedish players a little longer in our system. Because if we don’t do that we will lose the incentive of putting lots of money into the programs. You don’t make any money from junior hockey, it’s just big costs in Sweden. And why should Swedish clubs and the Swedish federation put money into the junior system where you’re never going to see the players play in Sweden?
“So I think that’s a very important question for us, to have the incentive to put all this money into the system.”
(Note - The Swedes are paid development fees by the NHL when players are drafted)
Chris Johnston of Sportsnet proposes that the issue here is control of the players, however. The example cited here is Buffalo Sabres General Manager Tim Murray and the 2016 NHL Draft 8th overall pick Alexander Nylander who came straight to the Rochester Americans. Said Murray over his decision -
“There’s still one or two teams that are at the bottom (in Sweden) and have a chance to be relegated and if ownership and/or the fan base is not approving of that, it’s easy to sit kids.
“My coach in the American (Hockey) League may not like some of my young guys some nights, but I have the ability to tell him to suck it up and play them. So there’s that.”
Nylander has struggled often this season in the AHL, and has found difficulty in dealing with the physical nature of the game at that level. He has 7 goals and 15 assists in 51 games, but is also an eye-watering -17.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have had success with deploying their young contingent directly in the NHL this season, including Nylander’s older brother, increasing the pressure on Murray to bail out his young star.
The Sabres also have
two four other Swedes on the prospects roster - forwards Victor Olofsson (2014, 7th round), Rasmus Asplund (2016, 2nd round), Gustav Possler (5th round, 2013) and Jonas Johansson (3rd round, 2014) [thanks DJ Shnooks!] who remain in the SHL and could be looking to make the move up in the next couple of years, but the Sabres might be forced to reconsider especially if the SIHA creates a more conducive atmosphere for their development at home.