Wednesday, August 29, 2007

So much for a 'super' series
Where have the great European defencemen gone?

There's a reason I didn't expect the so-called Super Series (which Canada now leads 2-0) to be much of a competition, and it looks something like this:

Russian NHLers 25-and-under

Forward: Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Frolov, Semin, Radulov, Zherdev
Defence: Volchenkov, Tyutin
Goal: none

The pipeline's been thin coming out of Russia for almost a decade now, with only a handful of elite snipers to show for all that development since 1999 or so.

Barring a big turnaround, I honestly can't see Russia's national team competing for a world title or Olympic gold in the near future, especially given the lack of quality defencemen being produced. (They've always had a hard time developing goaltenders.)

Not that Russia's the only country having that problem, as outside of the U.S., there have been very, very few elite non-forwards coming out of the non-Canadian nations:

American NHLers 25-and-under
Forward: Parise, Higgins, Stafford, Stempniak, Kessel, Gaustad, Kesler, Bochenski, Umberger, Slater, Pavelski, Brown, O'Sullivan, Backes, Booth, Larose, Fritsche, Moss, Shannon, Hollweg, Janssen
Defence: Whitney, Suter, Jack Johnson, Ballard, Carle, Komisarek, Lebda, Gleason, Wisniewski, Greene, Matt Jones
Goal: Bacashihua

Swedish NHLers 25-and-under
Forward: Sjostrom, Loui Eriksson
Defence: Oduya, Edler
Goal: Lundqvist

Finnish NHLers 25-and-under
Forward: Mikko Koivu, Jussi Jokinen, Tuomo Ruutu, Filppula
Defence: Pitkanen
Goal: Lehtonen, Toivonen

Czech NHLers 25-and-under
Forward: Hemsky, Michalek, Olesz, Prucha, Plekanec, Hudler, Novotny, Klepis
Defence: Michalek, Klesla, Krajicek, Smid
Goal: Schwarz

Slovak NHLers 25-and-under
Forward: Gaborik, Marcel Hossa, Ruzicka
Defence: Meszaros, Jurcina
Goal: Budaj, Halak

Not a Lidstrom, Zubov or Kaberle among them.

Either these European countries have a lot of talent in their own leagues or elsewhere that will break into the NHL after age 25, or we're looking at a Canada/U.S. dominated international hockey landscape in the next decade.

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At 11:57 a.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous Dennis Prouse said...

So much for Howie Meeker's brilliant prediction that Canada was going to be in trouble in this series. Howie is kind of the Rich Little of hockey analysts -- he used to be worth watching, but he hasn't had any new material in years.

At 12:23 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger McLea said...

Given how expensive it is to play hockey, this is hardly surprising. The Soviet program was successful largely because it received an incredible amount of government support which allowed for a significant number of kids to participate. Since that money has now disappeared, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that kids in those countries can no longer afford to play.

At 1:13 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous Justin said...

Wow....its almost shocking when you read it. You don't really realize until you put it down on paper I suppose. Great news for Canada, however not so good for hockey in general.

At 1:23 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous rajeev said...

once again mirtle displays equal parts ignorance and arrogance with stunning grace and deft.

1) 3 world junior golds and 4 silvers since 1999 would seem to belie the pipeline is drying up argument.

2) the nhl is not the end all be all of professional hockey. by your reasoning perezhogin, taratukhin, emelin, koltsov, kulemin, and shirokov are not good players because they are not in the nhl. russian players make more money in the rsl than they ever did so there's less incentive to come to north america. does italy not produce great soccer players because there are not that many playing in the english league?

3) russian coaches dont know how to run a bench. they don't match lines, the dont change up their lines, they dont change strategies during games, they just roll people over the boards. they are the most comically inept coaches in the world. how do you think this series would look if brent sutter and his staff were coaching the russians and nemchinov and his dolts instructed the canadians. do you think nemchinov would make sure sutter and leigen were out there everytime against cherapanov? please. perhaps the biggest thing separating the teams is coaching.

4) the 88 born class of russians is well known to be very sub par. wait until filatov, petrov, kuchin, and kitsyn come of age. wait, you have no idea who those players are.

i have no problem with you not knowing much about russian players that are not in the nhl. but dont talk about shit like you are an authority when you have no idea what youre talking about. every other non canadian nation in the world would love to have russian's players and prospects. if they could figure out how to coach teams, they would be a juggernaut.

At 1:25 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

What ever will we do when the pipeline for, um, enigmatic Euros dries up. Gahd forbid we have to go back to watching Oilers-Flames circa 1988 or Bruins-Habs circa 1977. That would be horrible.

At 2:22 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

the nhl is not the end all be all of professional hockey. by your reasoning perezhogin, taratukhin, emelin, koltsov, kulemin, and shirokov are not good players because they are not in the nhl.

The NHL is in fact the end all be all of professional hockey. The RSL's best players drop their contracts to come running to the NHL. The NHLs worst players are offered jobs in the RSL when noone else wants them.

At 3:17 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger PPP said...

Not to mention that the comparison between the number of Italians in the English Premiership is not a valid one.

In soccer there are 4 major domestic leagues (England, Germany, Italy, Spain) as opposed to one major hockey league in the world.

At 3:27 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry Rajeev, I've got to agree with Chemmy. And get ready for it: its going to get worse for the RSL. The NHL is expanding to 32 teams in the next few years and thats 40 more jobs. I'd predict that the top dozen or two dozen of the best RSL players will be in the NHL for 2010/2011.

At 3:34 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous vadim sharifijanov said...

he may not be as good as lidstrom, but pitkanen is not far behind zubov at the same age (minus the stanley cup) and he's farther ahead than kaberle.

but the bigger point is that we hear a lot more about north american players, and at younger ages. a lot of those supposedly can't-miss prospects on defence you listed for the USA will be the next tom poti or worse. some of the players we haven't heard much about (that you didn't list) from european countries could become the next charas and timonens. remember, those guys were on nobody's radar when they were in their early 20s.

At 3:47 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger Paul said...

Anton Stralman!

At 3:49 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

After three NHL seasons Joni Pitkanen has scored more goals and points than Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer after three seasons.

So he is not Kaberle or Zubov because he is better than them.

Lidstrom is another story since he is right behind Bobby Orr as one of the best D men ever! Last time I checked he had five Norris Trophys and one Conn Smythe Trophy.

Why don't they produce jagrs, forsbergs, bures and gretzkys anymore?

At 4:07 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger PPP said...

Pitkanen has 113 points to Kaberle's 107 after 3 seasons.

Where did this "so far ahead" idea come from?

At 4:31 p.m., August 29, 2007, Anonymous rajeev said...

ah ethnocentric canadians who dont know anything about the world beyond their immediate grasp (dont take it too hard canucks, i could pretty much replace canadians with americans, russians, or any other nationality). it's not your fault you dont get to see players like morozov or zinovjev or korolyuk or kenny johnsson. no, but you're right, dainus zubrus is way better than alexei yashin. chemmy is totally correct, perezhogin and saprykin went to ufa because they had no nhl prospects! stupidity is hilarious.

At 4:36 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

We got a pretty good look at Morozov, actually, and he didn't fare so well. Neither did David Ling or Ray Giroux, but they're veritable all-stars in the Russian league.

Rajeev, I hope Russia proves me wrong and stays completely competitive in the international scene, but I find their inability to produce defenders or goalies troubling. It's a great rivalry between Canada/Russia and it'd be a shame if it faded away.

I honestly believe the economic realities in the country have really hindered hockey development there — although you may be somewhat closer to the situation.

Just keep it clean.

At 5:30 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger PPP said...

Well thank God we have someone close to Russian hockey to tell us poor hick Canadians how much better their hockey players are then we could ever imagine.

With talent like Saprykin and Perezoghin it will just be a matter of time before Sid the Kid and the rest of the NHL's stars make their way to the RSL.

Rajeev - James is making a generalisation based on observations applicable to the vast majority of players. You are trying to take two players that could have been 3rd line NHLers as proof that the RSL is amazing. Who is more deluded?

At 6:02 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger Scotty Hockey said...

Just a minor oversight - you forgot the other Lundqvist on 'Team Sweden' - Joel on the Stars ... he may someday turn into a decent third line center but for now he just gets fourth line minutes and is sent out to grind ...

At 9:29 p.m., August 29, 2007, Blogger Art Vandelay said...

Rajeev, you need a lesson in economics. The best league in the world, with the most money to spend, presumably throws it at the best players. If Future Hall of Famer Oleg Saprykin was better than the alternative, in Ottawa or elsewhere, he'd be getting paid to stay in North America. But hockey GMs know Saprykin - and pretty much everyone on Mirtle's list - can be replaced at cost or cheaper. Sure, every once in a while there's a Kenny Jonsson who would rather play in his homeland than in North America. I respect that. But he represents the tiniest fraction of hockey players.
As for Yashin, he's cancer AND heart disease rolled into one package. I wouldn't have him on my team if HE paid the team.
When bona fide stars decide they'd rather play in some underheated smelly barn in Vladisvostok rather than collect their millions in North America, then we'll have something to talk about.

At 1:15 a.m., August 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is actually quite easy to explain if you know anything about European hockey today.

Russia: Communist money is gone and new money is only going to pro teams. Young russians can't afford to play in same numbers as before.

Also latest gallups show that the dream job for boys is mafia and for girls prostitution. Sports used to be the way out.

Czech: Probably other reasons too but CHL is one big factor. It's great for Canadians but czech youngsters think that playing 2-3 years junior hockey in Canada is same as 2-3 yrs in the NHL.

Look at the stats on how many Czech players from CHL really makes it.

Slovaks: Look above=Czech

Swedes: In Sweden they had "the Golden generation" (Sundin, Naslund, Forsberg, Lidstrom...) but after them came the Lost generation.

Junior coaches only taught systems instead of skills.

Now Sweden has turn the corner and there's more skill coming up. Watch out for D Victor Hedman in the next summer's Draft.

Finland: Same problem as Swedes had and correction will take some years.

This years Draft was awful - only four Finns drafted - and now they are finally making changes (at least talking about it).

USA: One of the richest countries in the world and hockey is expensive.

They'll do fine in the future.

Canada: Masses, rinks and finally better practises. Canada (and USA) are practising skills more and more which compined to their competiveness and toughness is almost impossible to beat.


Is this good or bad for the NHL is another debate.

At 2:42 p.m., August 30, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Rajeev: I'm not Canadian. Sorry to ruin your little rant about stereotyping nationalities.

The point is Montreal and Ottawa aren't going to miss Perezhogin and Saprykin. They're the best players you could think of that went to the RSL and noone in the NHL cares that they're gone. They're at best third liners in the NHL, yet in the RSL they'll be stars.

That's why people in North America think the RSL is a bush league, because forgettable players can go there and dominate. The level of play isn't as high as the NHL. End of story.

At 11:51 a.m., August 31, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Canada's up 3-0 in the Super Series with a combined score of 13-4.

Maybe the Super Series should replace Russia with the USA, so that we could see some interesting hockey instead of a one sided beat down.

At 9:33 a.m., September 06, 2007, Blogger Chemmy said...

Now Canada's up 6-0 in the Super Series by a combined score of 29-8.


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