When the Detroit Red Wings met up with the Edmonton Oilers in early January, more was at stake than two points in the standings. According to Gunnar Nordstrom of Sweden's Expressen, that's when Henrik Zetterberg and Anton Lander got together and decided to help financially bail out their old Swedish club, Timra IK.
I spoke to Timra club director (the Swedish equivalent of team president) Lars Nolander today and he laid out just how crucial the undisclosed infusion of capital is for the organization.
"It's really, really important to us," Nolander said. "The economics weigh on the club. We don't have enough money to put into good players."
Timra plays in the Allsvenskan, which is one rung down from the Swedish League. The Red Eagles played in the SHL (then known as the Elite League) from 2000-13 but financial troubles forced the club to cut costs in hopes of avoiding bankruptcy. That also hurt the on-ice product and the team was relegated to its current perch in the Allsvenskan.
Timra was already reeling in large part because the club owns its arena, which Nolander says is actually quite uncommon in Sweden.
"The fixed costs are very high," he said.
Nolander, whose first job with Timra was coaching a Red Eagles youth team when he was a teenager, became club director in 2012, in the heart of the maelstrom. Analyzing the club's finances, he saw two paths: Bankruptcy or "reconstruction," the latter of which would entail cost-cutting measures that would bring a high risk of relegation.
Sure enough, that's what happened. And while it was better than bankruptcy, the club was still in danger. When a Swedish club gets relegated from the SHL, revenues drop about 50 percent according to Nolander, due to a loss of sponsors and TV revenue. This season, the Red Eagles are staying alive in the Allsvenskan, but just barely. Timra is four points clear of the first relegation spot with seven games to go in a tight fight.
Since Timra's first year of Allsvenskan hockey, the club has lost 50 million kronor (about $7.5 million Canadian), according to Nolander. So Zetterberg and Lander arrived just in time.
Nolander says the club is in the process of selling the arena, which will likely happen in the next month or two. But that infusion from Zetterberg and Lander may have saved the team from bankruptcy again.
Both players were born outside Timra in the nearby city of Sundsvall, about four hours north of Stockholm. Lander played his youth hockey with the Red Eagles all the way up to the SHL before leaving for Edmonton in 2011-12. Zetterberg also played for Timra as a teen, leaving for Detroit in 2002-03.
"Those two guys are big stars here," Nolander said.
In fact, Timra hosts two youth tournaments during the season named after them: The Anton Lander Cup (for under-11s) and the Zata Cup (for under-10s).
While they already have trophies named after them by the Red Eagles, something tells me Lander and Zetterberg became even more legendary in Timra today.
*edited to reflect that the plural of krona is kronor