A quick look at what’s happening in the EURO.
Twenty-two games into Season 3 of the EURO League, some teams are where they were expected to be, while a few teams have been major surprises. But one of the big stories so far has been how tightly spaced large groups of teams are.
In the Southern Conference, for example, just four points separate the top team – Paris – from the 7th and 8th place teams – Frankfurt and Bern. And just four points down the list from them are three more teams knocking at the playoff door.
In the North, the teams currently in spots 7 to 11 are all within 2 points of each other.
Moscow, led by coach Glen Gulutzan and GM Michael Banker, who has 18 WSH Cups under his belt, have zoomed to the top of the overall standings with a 3-point lead over always tough Copenhagen and the defending champs in France. Three points seems like a mile in the EURO this season.
Not far behind Moscow in the Northern Conference standings are two teams doing much better than they did last season – Helsinki and Minsk. Helsinki, which finished 14th overall last season, currently sits in 5th place. Minsk has improved from 19th place last season to 8th today. Both teams look to be even better next year and beyond. Helsinki, which is led by Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist, have five quality prospects in the system and three picks in each of the next three drafts. Minsk, featuring Carey Price in goal, has accumulated nine prospects already and they have two extra picks in the next draft and three in the drafts after that.
In the Southern Conference, Frankfurt has been the biggest mover this year. Led by the fearsome line of Claude Giroux, Steven Stamkos and Max Pacioretty, the Inferno have blazed their way from 22nd overall to 12th this season. An injury to second-line center Vincent Lecavalier has hurt them for sure. If not for Logan Couture of Berlin, the three Frankfurt linemates would all be at the top of the scoring list with David Backes of Athens. But look what Couture has been doing. The Smurf has scored 14 goals in 21 games, scoring on more than 17 percent of the shots he has taken. He also has 20 assists to give him a league-leading 34 points. And he hasn’t neglected his defensive responsibilities. Among forwards, he is in the top 23 in both hits (36) and takeaways (32). In a little more than 2 seasons with Berlin, the 24-year-old has 74 goals and 186 points. Not bad for a $1.2 million-per-year investment. His main linemates this season have been Loui Eriksson, formerly of Stockholm, and Ryan Callahan, traded from Milan.
Eriksson and Callahan’s former clubs have had disappointing seasons thus far. Stockholm is last overall with 10 points, and Milan is second last with 15 points. Milan’s drop was expected. GM David Bell is retooling for the future and the Guerriero have seen the likes of Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Callahan leave since last season. But Stockholm’s calamitous start is perplexing. Along with the aforementioned Brown and Richards, Stockholm has acquired Rick Nash, Mike Green and Kevin Bieksa. The Eagles have been playing better lately, winning 3 of their 7 November games, and they are only 10 points out of a playoff berth with 60 games to go, so all is not lost in the Swedish capital. Here’s another observation. Stockholm and Gothenburg, the other Swedish entry in the EURO League, have almost identical road records. Stockholm is 2-9-1 and Gburg is 2-9-2. Where they differ greatly is on home ice, where the Eagles are only 2-7-1 and the Devils are 7-2. Only Moscow and Athens have better home winning percentages than the Devils.
(Editor’s note: I can’t keep to any rigid schedule of stories and will write them when I can. So every so often, a recap like this will pop up. I wish I could do more, but my other life hasn’t allowed it recently.)