The Lockout from a Swedish Perspective

Hockeyligan is the organization that runs the Elitserien, which is often referred to as the Swedish Elite League (SEL), and is made up of representatives from each SEL team. Earlier today Hockeyligan sent out a press release that said that they will not allow short term contracts. Short term contracts are contracts that are shorter than a year. If a player signs with a team in the SEL in 2012-13, they will have to finish the season in Sweden and will not be able to leave if the NHL resumes play at any point before the Swedish season has ended. The head of Hockeyligan, Jörgen Lindgren, said to Expressen: “As of right now Hockeyligan believes that there will only be a short term lockout, if there is one at all, but if the entire NHL season is canceled we will look at the issue again. However that decision will come later. With our season starting in the middle of September, this feels like a good decision for the time being.”

The conclusion you can draw from this is that nothing is set in stone quite yet for the SEL in regards to NHL players. I guess time will tell what eventually will happen.

It’s possible that Hockeyligan will stick together and have a united front for the rest of the season. But here are some thoughts on why it easily could be a very divided group in a couple of months. First off, because Hockeyligan is made up of competitors, it’s always easy for them to agree on things before the season has begun.

Allsvenskan, the second tier division in Sweden, and Elitserien have two separate organizations. It will be interesting to see tomorrow if Allsvenskan’s governing organization comes to the same decision as the SEL did.

All this is of course a simplification of things. There are so many known and unknown factors to consider. When you don’t know exactly how the NHL will deal with things, it’s impossible to say for sure how another league will react and adapt to it. For example: The insurance issue; it will cost a lot to insure some of the long term contracts. Which rules will the NHL go by? Will they be the same as at the last lockout? How will waivers work? And so on.

The SEL starts on September 13 and no NHL players will be interested in playing in the league that early in the season anyway. Older players that have families and kids in school would have no interest in coming over early or until it’s determined that the whole season is canceled. Younger players that are still on their entry level deals have been informed by the NHLPA that their respective NHL clubs control where they play, meaning that they can send them down to the AHL if they so choose.

Marcus Johansson said to Värmlands Folkblad on if he would play with Färjestad or in the AHL. “It’s a possibility [that I will play in the AHL], In the end it will be up to Washington to decide where I play. If they really want me to play there I guess I have to do that then. But I don’t think that any NHL player really wants to play in the AHL.”

There are also, for lack of better words, the “in between” players that are no longer on their ELC’s and do not have families to consider.  Those players probably are the ones most interested in playing in the SEL earlier in the season, but they would probably desire to start playing in the SEL a few months after the season has started.  Nicklas Bäckström said to Expressen in an interview that was published a few hours before the Hockeyligan put out their press release, ”To be completely honest I haven’t really given it that much thought. I’m hoping of course that there won’t be a lockout at all. But of course, I have Brynäs in the back of my mind if there in fact is a lockout. But if there is a long lockout, my team of choice is Brynäs, there is no doubt about that.”

“It’s a tough situation and an unfortunate situation. I don’t want to come home and represent Brynäs for just a couple of weeks or a month. That just wouldn’t feel right.”

Elitserien does not have the safety net that the NHL has. Elitserien consist of 12 teams and is not a closed league. Every year teams may be relegated down to a lower league, and only 8 teams make the playoffs. The teams that finish at spots 9 and 10 in the standings will not make the playoffs but are guaranteed a spot in the SEL the next year. At the end of the regular season, teams in spots 11 and 12 have to compete against teams from the second tier league in Sweden, Allsvenskan, in what is known as the Kvalserien and they are not guaranteed a spot in the SEL the next year. They have to beat out the teams from Allsvenskan to stay in the SEL.

What this means is that every year at least four SEL teams are very likely to lose a lot of money. Many of the teams have a budget that calculates them getting revenue from at least one round of the playoffs to make a profit. For the teams that get relegated, they lose a lot TV rights money which is a big part of how teams survive. It’s a significant drop in sponsor and TV rights money when teams go from the SEL to Allsvenskan. They will have an enormous pressure on them as a team to move back up to the SEL in just one year. Because historically it becomes more difficult every year a team is stuck in Allsvenskan to move up to the SEL again.

In the NHL the teams that fail and finish in the bottom of the league are “rewarded” by high draft picks, but in the SEL, the teams are punished instead. Players usually have out clauses in their contracts for the possibility that the team is relegated so they can easily abandon the team and sign with a team remaining in the SEL. There are no player drafts either in the SEL so there is no influx of potentially very good players in the future for the teams finishing poorly in the standings.

It is easy to stay united before the season starts but it is not as easy later in the year when general managers are fighting for their jobs as their teams are fighting for playoff spots and trying to avoid the dreaded Kvalserien. If the best players in the world are available in that situation, it is easy to believe that a general manager would take the risk of signing a player even if the contract is not structured in the way the league had decided upon on a few months previous.

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