GOTHENBURG – Several high-profile players leave Europe for the NHL and many come back. Mostly they land in the emerging Russian KHL but the most recent club to be strengthened with NHL players is Sweden’s Frölunda Gothenburg.
Any help comes in handy for Frölunda. Despite being considered a top club in the country when it comes to attendance and money – Frölunda had a record revenue of €13m in the 2008-2009 season with a profit of €37,000 – the club hasn’t been very successful on the ice since winning the Elitserien back in 2005.
This year they were defeated by HV71 Jönköping in the semi-finals, two years ago they lost the quarterfinal series to archrival Färjestad Karlstad and in 2007 they did not even qualify for the playoffs.
The club from Sweden’s second-biggest city wants to continue the upward trend with two NHL players signed over the weekend. Both were members of the last championship team during the 2004-2005 lockout season.
On Friday, Frölunda announced that 27-year-old forward Joel Lundqvist will rejoin the club after three years and 134 NHL games (7 goals, 19 assists) with the Dallas Stars.
“It’s my longest contract ever,” said Lundqvist, who was named captain after having signed the six-year deal. “It provides security both for me and the club. The team looks very strong. It’s not a secret that we’re aiming for gold.”
On Monday, the Gothenburg club announced the even bigger deal with Per-Johan Axelsson, who comes back to Frölunda after eleven years with the Boston Bruins. The 34-year-old winger had 797 NHL games with 287 points (103G, 184A), and earned $1.85m last season.
Axelsson signed a four-year contract. “Frölunda is the club of my heart, I always wanted to come back,” he said. “Playing in the Scandinavium is one of the things I have missed the most.”
One month ago, Frölunda also announced that Danish national team defenceman Philip Larsen will stay with the club for one more year on loan after the 19-year-old signed an entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.
One of the reasons behind the successful transfer campaign might be head coach Ulf Dahlén. He was hired by the Dallas Stars from 2002 to 2007, first as a player, then as a scout and as an assistant coach before leaving for Frölunda.
Dahlén already worked successfully with Lundqvist in the NHL and by knowing the organization’s management, he was able to convince them that one more year in Europe will help Larsen’s career more than sending him to the minors.
However, Frölunda is not just strengthening its current team, the club is also building for its future.
While Frölunda will continue to play at Scandinavium, a 12,044-seat arena and two-time World Championship venue, the Axelsson announcement on Monday coincided with the opening of the Campus Frölunda.
The new practice facility includes a 6000-seat arena, a smaller rink for goalie and special-team practices, state-of-the-art training facilities including gym, pool, a restaurant and offices for the club’s staff.
Campus Frölunda was built by totally renovating the old Frölundaborg arena in the western outskirts of Gothenburg. Frölundaborg was the club's original indoor rink where the club played 1967 to 1971 when they moved into the downtown Scandinavium.
The moves are done. Now the team will have to show on the ice where it stands. Especially against Färjestad Karlstad and HV71 Jönköping, the two 2009 Finalists, located geographically closest to Frölunda.