Zurich most improved so far

Drew Stafford (21) celebrates a Zurich goal with Patrice Bergeron (37), Ilya Kovelchuk (17) and Joni Pitkanen (25).

Drew Stafford (21) celebrates a Zurich goal with Patrice Bergeron (37), Ilya Kovelchuk (17) and Joni Pitkanen (25).

The moral of this story is “don’t even try to make sense of it.”

The Zurich Lions, under GM Dennis Sullo, have moved up in the overall standings more than any other team has since the end of the first season.  They finished 22nd overall in 2012-13 and are currently sixth overall, a jump of 16 places. Fifty-one games into the season and they’ve already zoomed past their win total from all of last year. Let’s look at their team stats to see why they have improved so much, shall we?  Let’s see … their powerplay is actually a little worse than the Season 1 version. Hmmm.  Penalty killing?  Also worse.  Hmmm again. They are averaging an extra shot and a half on goal per game and they’ve tightened up on defense to the tune of 2.8 shots per game, but can that account for the tremendous improvement? Maybe the coach has found the perfect game strategies and practice recipe.

The real answer could be that Drew Stafford and Michal Frolik have really picked up their games, and that the Lions have added some players through trades and free agency that have had a big impact. The main pistons in their engine are still skaters like Patrice Bergeron, Patrick Kane and Ilya Kovalchuk, but none of them seems to be going at a greater pace than they did in season one.  Stafford and Frolik, on the other hand, have just surpassed their 2012-13 scoring totals with more than a third of a season to go. Frolik’s third-line center, Manny Malhotra, is a game or two from doing the same. On defense, the addition of Joni Pitkanen and Marc Staal, formerly of Copenhagen and Helsinki respectively, seem to have steadied the ship.  And up front, former Prague playmaker Jussi Jokinen is third in scoring for Zurich behind Bergeron and Stafford. Rookies Alexander Radulov, a right wing, and tough guy Micki Dupont on defense, have played regularly and helped the team. And in goal, Brian Elliott has played better too.

Zurich is the only team in the EURO League which has had more than three general managers in their history, and Sullo has done a masterful job in Switzerland.

The Lions aren’t the only EURO team to experience a huge surge in Season 2. Paris is up 15 places from its 19th place finish last season, and Athens is up 11 spots from 20th in the league last season. Like Zurich, both of those teams compete in the tight Southern Conference. If teams are moving up in the rankings, that means others have to be dropping.  Prague has plummeted 15 places from 6th a year ago, and Bern, which was built solely for the 2012-13 season, has dropped 13 spots from number 2 overall. Joe Page (myli) took over Bern after original GM “skates21” traded away the future and abandoned the team after a season.

While the Swiss teams have moved all over the standings since the end of the last season, the three teams in Germany have not budged. They couldn’t be more consistent.  Frankfurt was in 23rd place last season and it’s in 23rd now.  Berlin went from 16th place to 16th place and Munich is in 5th place, right where it was at the end of the season last year.

Another observation: As rivalries form and teams stock up on young brutes like Dupont and Athens’ Staffan Kronwall, the league has seen penalties go up significantly this year. Only one team – league-leading Copenhagen – is taking fewer penalties per game than they did a season ago.

Here is a list of where each team moved in the overall standings since the end of the 2012-13 season. Note that because of how tight the Southern Conference is, these numbers could look quite different in a couple of weeks.

  • Zurich up 16 places
  • Paris 15
  • Athens 11
  • Minsk 6
  • Moscow 6
  • Dublin 5
  • Bratislava 5
  • Copenhagen 3
  • Belfast 1
  • St. Petersburg 1
  • Munich 0
  • Frankfurt 0
  • Berlin 0
  • Madrid -1
  • Edinburgh -1
  • Oslo -1
  • Helsinki -2
  • Gothenburg -3
  • Geneva -6
  • Milan -7
  • London -9
  • Stockholm -11
  • Bern -13
  • Prague -15
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