Competition for roster spots in the NHL hasn’t been so fierce since the Original Six era and with the advent of the salary cap, team decisions become even more complex. And thanks to the globalization of the game, there are more opportunities to play hockey at an elite level outside of the NHL. So how does a North American player arrive at that decision?
Center Ryan Spooner recently signed on to play with Lugano in the Swiss League after 325 games of NHL service. Originally drafted by the Boston Bruins, Spooner spent most of his young career with the B’s before moving on to the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks.
A skilled player who was often shifted to the wing, Spooner couldn’t find a fit last season, bouncing between the Rangers, Oilers and Canucks, with a stop in AHL Bakersfield thrown in the middle. According to his agent, Switzerland gives the 27-year-old Spooner the chance to reset and Europe provides that.
“You have to evaluate what all the options are,” said Murray Koontz, whose clientele also includes Colton Sissons and Austin Watson. “From there, it’s about what fits the individual. Ryan wanted to regain his form, regain his touch and be the No. 1 center on a team.”
That opportunity was not going to happen in the NHL, but in Lugano Spooner has the opportunity to really get back on track while enjoying one of the best lifestyles in the hockey world. The Swiss League is famous in pro circles for its ease of travel, where the close proximity of the cities means that players almost always sleep at home, even after road games. The country itself is beautiful, with a high standard of living, while the competition itself is top-notch. It’s no surprise that Auston Matthews chose the Swiss League when he decided to play his draft season outside of North America.
“We did our homework,” Koontz said. “Ryan spoke to a number of friends who had been there and the verdict was that as both an organization and a city, Lugano was off the charts.”
Spooner has a girlfriend, but no children, so he has the luxury of mobility right now. Koontz also believes the European experience will help his client grow as both a player and a person.
So how does a Swiss team find out that an NHLer might be available?
“The hockey world is pretty small,” Koontz said. “When a player like Ryan becomes available, people find out pretty quickly.”
Lugano’s new GM, by the way, is former NHLer-turned-Swiss star Hnat Domenichelli, who has been quite successful in his post-playing days by leveraging his knowledge of both North American and European hockey.
Some of the Swiss League’s top scorers this past season were former NHLers, such as Mark Arcobello, Dustin Jeffrey and Chris DiDomenico. If Spooner can get his finesse game to work in Lugano, he’ll be a valuable player in a league where the balance between Swiss nationals and imports is crucial. Worst-case scenario? He gets to live in a beautiful city and experience a different lifestyle for the year. Doesn’t sound like a bad fall-back plan either way.
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