One of the top executives in Swedish hockey has confirmed the country has no intention of ratifying the new player transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation and is poised to join Russia in boycotting the deal.
“We had a meeting last week with the (Swedish) federation and we decided we will say no to this agreement,” said Hakan Loob, who is the GM of Farjestad in the Swedish Elite League. “Even to prolong this agreement by one year would not be good for us.”
The NHL and the European federations – minus the Russians – came to a one-year deal earlier this month that would have seen more players going back to their European teams instead of going to the minors. But after some surprising opposition from GMs around the league and the Swedish decision to pull out, the agreement now would appear to be in serious jeopardy.
The major issue, Loob said, is a provision in the new collective bargaining agreement that forces teams to sign European players within two years of drafting them, which brings them in line with major junior players. Prior to that, teams held the rights or European players in perpetuity after drafting them.
Part of the problem from the NHL’s perspective, though, is that if players were sent back to Europe, those two years would count against the term of the entry level deal and the teams see that as a problem because they would lose control over the development of their players.
The new agreement wouldn’t have changed that, but it would have obliged NHL teams to send any player not drafted in the first round who is under 22 back to his European team instead of the minors. That, Loob said, will not be enough to appease the Swedish club teams.
“The big thing is the two-year rule about the draft and it is hurting us quite badly,” Loob said. “It’s not so much about the money. People might think it’s about the money, but that’s not the case.”
Don’t count on the CBA being changed anytime soon, at least not without the league making a major concession to the NHL Players’ Association in other areas. NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly said the union has no intention of changing the draft rules and said because of the lockout, there was effectively a “double cohort” of Swedish players coming into the league, and the number will even out after time.
Under the terms of the deal, the NHL pays $200,000 for each player it signs to a contract. The Russian federation has said it wants more for its players than that.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he was only “mildly surprised,” because the Swedes and others seemed to be on board after they met in New York in early January. But he can understand the frustration of the Swedish club teams.
“I think part of the problem is that not many players are being drafted out of Russia now and the former Russian focus has shifted over to Sweden,” Daly said. “Having said that, I think the whole European draft pick is valued differently under the rules of this system than it was previously. Now you have only two years to sign them and that becomes not as valuable an asset. This year we only had 36 players drafted from European leagues and that was less than half of what we had ever had over the past 12 years.”
Clearly the NHLPA holds the most leverage in this situation. The union has the power to agree to change the CBA to the old draft rules regarding Europeans or, perhaps, the four-year rule that applies to U.S. college players. But getting European players in line with major junior players was a major accomplishment for the union in collective bargaining, one they’re not about to surrender without some significant concessions in other areas.
“It depends on how badly (the NHLPA) wants an agreement,” Daly said. “But they certainly don’t want to make further concessions.”