STOCKHOLM – If there’s one word that a hockey fan dreads more than “loss”, it’s probably “rebuilding”. That’s a word that club managements like to use when things aren’t going the way they – or the fans – would want to.
Rebuilding means cutting costs, throwing aging stars overboard – if lucky, the club can sell or trade them, but not always in the European circles – and, basically, starting from scratch.
That’s not to say that rebuilding isn’t a good, or a necessary thing. Sometimes it is.
In the NHL, the teams get rebuilt through drafts. In Sweden, the clubs take a look at their own junior system to see if there are talents that can keep afloat, and with age and experience, take it back to the top.
In 2001, Djurgården Stockholm won its second consecutive Swedish championship when Daniel Tjärnqvist scored the overtime winner against Färjestad Karlstad in Game 6 of the series. The team’s leading scorer was Mikael Johansson who collected 15 points in 16 games. Nichlas Falk also had 15 points.
Head coach Hardy Nilsson rushed from the championship celebration straight to the World Championship camp as the new head coach of Team Sweden. He would take his new system with two forechecking forwards, two playmaking players and a defenceman to the national team.
In 2002, Djurgården’s archrival AIK Stockholm got relegated to the Allsvenskan, and Djurgården lost to Frölunda Gothenburg in the quarterfinals. In 2003, Djurgården made the playoffs, AIK the qualification series to Elitserien, but neither one went all the way, with Djurgården getting ousted in the semi-finals. The same happened the following year, when Djurgården lost to Frölunda in the first round of playoffs, and AIK played in the qualification round, but failed to earn promotion.
AIK went bankrupt and was demoted to the third-tier league in 2004. Around the same time began Djurgården’s nosedive. The rivalry may have been the best thing that could happen to the two teams, making sure hockey stayed front and centre in Stockholm.
AIK has since fought its way back to Allsvenskan, and last season, it was back playing for promotion to Elitserien.
Djurgården hasn’t got past the first round since 2005, and it missed the playoffs in 2006, 2007, and 2009.
“Excuse our mess, we’re rebuilding.”
The team moved from the Globe Arena, the stage for several international games, to the old and legendary Johanneshov’s arena – also known as Hovet – next door for financial reasons. The Globe Arena’s rent and the opportunities other Eliterien clubs have with new or renovated arenas were suddenly out of reach for Djurgården. No selling of luxury boxes, not netting the income at the concession stands.
Three seasons ago, Djurgården played about half its games in Hovet, and the year after, it moved to Hovet permanently. During games, the audience is encouraged to use the services at the concession stands, because “50 percent of the profit goes to Djurgården”.
Still not an ideal situation.
On the ice, the team is in rebuilding phase. Johansson, the championship hero in 2001, is in his second season as the coach, this year assistant to Hardy Nilsson, who’s back in Sweden after a tenure in Austria. Nilsson spent four years as the head coach of Tre Kronor, won two silver and two bronze medals in the World Championships, and then disappeared in Austria.
Nichlas Falk, another major building block on the 2001 team and a Hardy Nilsson favourite, has reinvented himself as a defenceman.
There is only one import on the team, American defenceman Kyle Klubertanz. Most of the players are from the Stockholm area. The problem with Stockholm hockey is not that there aren’t players. On the Team Sweden that played this season’s first Euro Hockey Tour tournament in the Czech Republic, there were nine players born in Stockholm, but only three of them were from Djurgården or AIK.
The Djurgården torch is being passed because it must. And because the club hasn’t had money, it has had to rely on young prospects, like forwards Andreas Engqvist, Marcus Krüger, Jacob Josefson, Carl Gustafsson, goaltender Stefan Ridderwall. Gustaf Wesslau, 24, is considered a veteran goalie in comparison.
Surrounded by such veterans as Marcus Nilson, Marcus Ragnarsson and Falk, as well as other 2001 champions Mathias Tjärnqvist, and team captain Jimmie Ölvestad, the next generation is expected to carry the team this season.
This season, there is no Fredrik Bremberg, former Tre Kronor player, and Djurgården’s leading scorer four seasons in a row. He decided to sign with Atlant Mytishchi in Russia this season, and even though he became available again after a few games, Djurgården’s door stayed closed.
Two years ago, when Djurgården was close to ending up in the qualification series, and risking to get demoted, most of the GMs told IIHF.com that they hoped to see Djurgården in the Elitserien in the future as well. Stockholm, as the capital, and the media capital of Sweden, is an important market, and not having an Elitserien team there would leave too big a hole on the map.
Right now, Djurgården’s rebuilding is going fine. The team is in the middle of the pack after ten games, its leading scorers are Stockholm natives Marcus Krüger (born 1990), Engqvist (born 1987), and Andreas Holmqvist, and Klubertanz.
After four home games, the attendance figures seem to be up from last season, having declined for three straight years. With Nilsson, some homegrown heroes, and enough wins, the Stockholm hockey fans will be back.
They may even force Djurgården move again, to Globe Arena, that seats almost 14,000.
Like on April 10, 2001, when Mikael Johansson scored the overtime winner in the Game 5 of the final against Färjestad in front of 13,850 spectators.
Or if that’s too much to ask, a Stockholm derby would be nice.
- Robin Sterner, the grandson of Ulf Sterner, the first European NHL pro, played his first Elitserien game on Saturday, in Färjestad’s home arena, which has his grandfather’s number nine lifted to the rafters. The 19-year-old forward introduced himself to the home crowd in his first shift by scoring his first Elitserien goal. Sterner plays regularly in Färjestad’s farm team in Skåre in the third-tier league.
- Linköping – and other Elitserien teams – will have to wait another three games before the doors to the tax paradise called Sweden welcome their “artists” – players that stay in the country for less than six months and therefore will be taxed lighter. Linköping is looking forward to getting Jaroslav Hlinka and Jan Hlavac, the team’s two best scorers last season, to the lineup.
- Defenceman Christian Bäckman didn’t manage to get a contract with the Florida Panthers, so instead, he signed a three-year contract with his alma mater, Frölunda Gothenburg. Coach Ulf Dahlén welcomed him with open arms. Bäckman has averaged 29:50 minutes in his first three games.
- Another team looking at a rebuilding process is MODO Örnsköldsvik. The 2007 champions missed the playoffs last season, and are currently dead last in the Elitserien standings, with only one win in ten games. The golden generation with one of the best Swedish lines ever – Peter Forsberg, Niklas Sundström, Markus Näslund from the 1993 World Juniors – is approaching the end of the road, but will they rise to the occasion, and save their beloved MODO one last time? There’s been rumours that Näslund, now a board member, might be considering a comeback. Forsberg will decide whether to stay in Sweden by early November, and Sundström who’s been sidelined the entire season due to groin problems, also vows to get back.