NHL-Euros on the decline

For the first time in a decade, Euro share is below 25 percent

13.05.2009
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Zurich  SWITZERLAND

Jaromir Jagr (right) is one former NHLer who contributed to reducing the quota of Europeans in the league this past season. Photo: Jukka Rautio / HHOF-IIHF Images

ZURICH – Despite the fact that there was a slight increase in the number of European players in the NHL this past season, the percentage dropped for the seventh straight year. Some 243 Europeans played at least one game during the 2008-09 regular season, up by one from last year’s 242 and way down from the all-time high of 300 in 2003-04.

There were, however, 974 players in the league this past season, making European representation just 24.9 per cent, down from 25.7 last year and well down from 2001-02 when 30.3 per cent of NHLers came from Europe.

Is this downward trend because of the lack of a player transfer agreement between the NHL and IIHF? Because of disagreements between the NHL and Russia? Appropriate action to the IIHF study of several years ago which stressed native development of European players? Perhaps it’s all of the above plus a few other factors, but the decline is irrefutable.

The Czechs continue to lead the way with 57 players in the league, and Sweden is right behind with 54. Finland ranks third with 42 and Russia fourth with 36. Slovakia has 18 players in the NHL. Ironically, the number of Russians increased from 32 in 2007-08 despite the fact that last year was the start of the new KHL, a league that hoped to lure many of its own players home.
 
The Czechs, meanwhile, have been steadily declining over the years while Sweden has held steady or increased its share of representation, a fact that suggests Sweden might become the top European provider to the NHL very soon.

These top five nations represent 85 per cent of European talent, but 12 other nations were also represented in the league in ’08-‘09: Germany (8), Switzerland (6), Belarus (4), Denmark (4), Latvia (4), Austria (3), Ukraine (2), France (1), Kazakhstan (1), Lithuania (1), Norway (1), Slovenia (1).

The distribution of talent ranges wildly throughout the league. Tampa Bay leads the way with 15 Europeans, followed by Detroit (14), Washington (13), Columbus (12), Toronto (11), Florida (10) Montreal (10), and Phoenix (10).
 
At the low end, Anaheim and Calgary had but three Europeans each on their roster. The conclusion most easily drawn is that stockpiling Europeans or ignoring them has little to do with winning (or losing). Great teams win with or without Euros, and weak teams lose in much the same manner.

The decline of representation is not surprising because the overwhelming majority of players who get to the NHL make it through the Entry Draft. A parallel decline in Euros drafted has occurred also since 2001. That year an incredible 142 of 289 players selected (49.1 per cent) were European. That number has more or less progressively declined, and in 2008 only 45 of 211 (21.3 per cent) drafted came from Europe.
The rookie numbers for ’08-’09 reflect all of the above trends as well. There were 168 players who skated in the NHL for the first time this past season. As always, Canada led the way with 83 of that number, and the United States was second with 42.
 
Of the 10 European countries to develop a rookie this year Sweden was tops with 10 players, and Finland had 9. Rounding out the numbers were Czech Republic (7), Russia (6), Denmark (2), Latvia (2), Slovakia (2), Switzerland (2), Austria (1), Germany (1). In all, 42 of 168 (exactly 25 per cent) first-timers came from Europe.

Of course, if the NHL has 168 rookies coming in it also has about the same number of players moving out. In fact, 173 players who appeared in 2007-08 did not play in 2008-09. So, where did they go? Well, 28 either retired or did not play (injury, lack of club interest, etc.), and the majority (57) played the season in the AHL, some players hoping to make it back to the big tent; others knowing this would be where they’d be playing most of their career.

As for the European leagues, departing NHL players had two preferences -- the KHL and Switzerland. Some 36 players from the NHL in ’07-’08 were in the Russian league last year, but what is unusual is that only eight of that number were Russians “coming home” to their new league. The rest were imports from around the hockey world (i.e., North America and Europe). Switzerland attracted 16 players, and most of the remainder went to Sweden, Finland, and Germany.

Europeans in the NHL since 2000

2000-2001: 280 Europeans out of 990 – 28.3 percent
CZE 70, RUS 69, SWE 47, FIN 34, SVK 29, UKR 7, GER 6, SUI 4, LAT 3, LTU 2, POL 2, NOR 2, KAZ 1, BLR 1.

2001-2002: 293 Europeans out of 968 – 30.3 percent
CZE 78, RUS 62, SWE 53, FIN 42, SVK 32, GER 6, LAT 6, UKR 4, POL 2, KAZ 2, LTU 2, SUI 1, NOR 1, AUT 1, BLR 1.

2002-2003: 293 Europeans out of 984 – 29.7 percent
CZE 80, RUS 65, SWE 58, FIN 38, SVK 30, GER 6, LAT 5, POL 2, KAZ 2, SUI 2, UKR 1, LTU 1, NOR 1, AUT 1, BLR 1.

2003-2004: 300 Europeans out of 1018 – 29.5 percent
CZE 76, RUS 64, SWE 53, FIN 37, SVK 35, GER 7, UKR 5, KAZ 4, LAT 4, SUI 4, AUT 3, BLR 2, LTU 2, NOR 2, POL 2.

2005-2006: 262 Europeans out of 961 – 27.26 percent
CZE 65, RUS 51, SWE 46, FIN 39, SVK 32, GER 8, SUI 4, BLR 3, AUT 3, LAT 3, POL 2, KAZ 2, FRA 1, NOR 1, UKR 1, LTU 1.

2006-2007: 259 Europeans out of 945 – 27.41 percent
CZE 65, SWE 50, RUS 44, FIN 42, SVK 26, GER 7, SUI 5, LAT 4,  BLR 3, AUT 2, NOR 2, UKR 2, DEN 2, FRA 1, KAZ 1, JPN 1, LTU 1, SLO 1.

2007-2008: 242 Europeans out of 941 – 25.72 percent
CZE 59, SWE 53, FIN 41, RUS 32, SVK 23, GER 9, SUI 6, BLR 4, LAT 3, AUT 2, UKR 2, NOR 2, DEN 2, KAZ 1, SLO 1, LTU 1, FRA 1.

ANDREW PODNIEKS & IIHF.com staff (research)


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