European Hockey: Friday’s Five for 14 December

COMMITTED: LA Kings goalie Jonathan Bernier has committed to playing net for Canada in the upcoming Spengler Cup

BY JEFF ANGUS

It is Friday, and that means it is time for Friday’s Five, our weekly series covering five of the most interesting stories from the world of European Hockey.

5. The exodus home. Many NHL players are returning home to North America in hopes that a lockout resolution is close. They will likely return to Europe after the holidays if the NHL and NHLPA haven’t reached an agreement, but the balance of power will be shifting dramatically for many of the European hockey teams that were relying on NHL players to score goals (or to prevent them).

The teams that benefit are obviously the ones that have little-to-no NHL talent on their rosters. From a European hockey agent:

“I have been talking to a number of teams on the continent today who have NHL guys on their rosters. It seems that quite a few of them have been told by their NHL agents today, to get ready to return within the next week. One GM told me today that a contact of his in the NHL had advised that they are now looking at 2nd January restart.”

Those comments, if true, are music to the ears of NHL fans. However, at this point in the negotiations, it is difficult to get optimistic about anything.

4. Matt Duchene has left Sweden, but he isn’t coming back to Colorado. He transferred over to the NLA to suit up for Ambri-Piotta (the same club that Cory Schneider signed with a few weeks ago). Duchene immediately becomes the best forward/skater on the club. He had spent most of the season playing for Frolunda in the SEL.

I wonder if these comments had anything to do with Duchene’s move? He ripped into some of his teammates a few weeks back:

“If this was in the NHL, five players would be sent down to the minors after a game like this. But here, players are too comfortable. There are 33 million Canadians that would sacrifice an arm to play hockey at this level.”

And speaking of Schneider, his level of play has been as advertised in Switzerland. Through four games, the talented American goaltender is putting up impressive numbers – including a 2.25 goals-against-average,

3. I discussed Linus Omark’s successes in my column last week, and it appears that the Detroit Red Wings have caught wind of Omark’s performance as well (Omark skates on a line with two Red Wings players – Damien Brunner and Henrik Zetterberg). The cost for Detroit to acquire Omark from Edmonton wouldn’t be much more than a mid-round draft pick. Omark had been on the NHL trade block last year without drawing much interest.

Success in Europe doesn’t always translate over to the NHL (as we saw with Mattias Weinhandl, the “third Sedin” before Alex Burrows came along), but it seems like a worthwhile risk for the Wings to make. It would also allow them to spread their offensive attack throughout the lineup a bit more.

Brunner has been fantastic this season in Switzerland, as you can see here. He is outpacing every NHL player skating in Europe right now.

2. Los Angeles Kings backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier has committed to tend goal for Canada’s team at the upcoming Spengler Cup tournament (assuming the NHL is still locking its players out). The tournament takes place in late December in Germany, but Canada won’t announce their roster until only a few days before the tournament (to ensure they aren’t wasting any spots on NHL players that don’t end up making the trip over).

NHL players currently playing in Switzerland, including Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, and John Tavares, have all shown interest in suiting up for Canada in a couple of weeks.

“The Spengler Cup is a six-team tournament that dates back to 1923. Traditionally, Canada sends a group of pros based in Switzerland along with a handful of guys from other European leagues and the American Hockey League.

Canada last won the event 2007, when it had veteran Curtis Joseph in goal.”

1. If you are pessimistic about the NHL lockout ending any time soon, perhaps it is time to look ahead to the 2013 World Hockey Championship. The tournament takes place each April, and Canada usually has a roster comprised of NHL players who are not taking part in the Stanley Cup playoffs (Rick Nash usually dominates at this tournament). This year, Canada would be able to put together a stacked roster if the lockout extends all season, although the other nations in the tournament would be able to do the same. It could be the next time we see a team full of NHL players skating together in a game of any significance.

Canada has not won the tournament since 2007, and they are currently priced as underdogs at a +450 payout.