Copenhagen and Stockholm are only a 1-hour, 10-minute flight from each other, but their EURO League teams seem much farther away this season.
Copenhagen is enjoying another good season and is neck and neck with defending league champion Paris in the race for the President’s Trophy. Both teams have 101 points this season, with the Tridents having one game in hand. If the Tridents win the President’s Trophy, it will be their second in a row.
Much of the credit for Copenhagen’s good year can be traced to the tough decisions GM Dylan Callow made in the off season. When the free agency occurred between seasons, Callow had to figure out a way to keep the team where it always has been in the EURO League: challenging for a Cup. But he didn’t seem to have enough cap space to keep everybody.
Resigned were Stephen Weiss, Boyd Gordon, Teddy Purcell, Troy Brouwer and Carl Gunnarsson. Let go were Derek Roy (currently with Moscow), Gregory Campbell (Athens), Benn Ferriero (Stockholm), Scott Hannan (free agent) and goalie Mathieu Garon (Bern). Among the players traded away were Dany Heatley and Dave Bolland (both in Munich) and acquired in trades were Brooks Laich and Matt Moulson among others.
The decision to lock up Stephen Weiss with a three-year deal worth $5.5 million per season seems like a great move right now. The 30-year-old has just achieved his third straight 30-goal, 90-point season and there are still 13 games to play. He and linemates Alexander Ovechkin and Thomas Fleischmann should all finish with at least 30 goals scored and Ovechkin will almost certainly score more than 40.
The second line with Brouwer and former Milan Guerriero Moulson on the wings is buoyed by Laich, who has been a goal-scoring marvel this season. He already has 31. In two previous seasons with Munich, he scored 18 and 25 goals.
The biggest off-the-ice move made by the Danish team was a few days after Christmas, when Kevin Shattenkirk, Gunnarsson and Purcell were traded to London for shot-blocking, hitting, shot-blasting defenseman Shea Weber. And Weber seems to love his new home. In his two-plus seasons in Oslo and his 17-game stint in London, Weber scored at a rate of about 55 points per season. In Copenhagen, he has 24 points in 24 games. Weber is part of one of the EURO’s best top 4 defense corps along with Alex Goligoski, Andrej Meszaros and Mark Giordano. They all have at least 33 points and are between plus 21 and plus 28. They protect Roberto Luongo, who is having another good year and will be in the running for the best goalie trophy at the end of the year.
Copenhagen hosts Zurich tonight and will have two games with tough Northern Conference foe Moscow in the next 10 days. The Tridents and Spartak played on Saturday, with Copenhagen winning 4-1. Gordon scored twice in that game.
Meanwhile, last place Stockholm, now officially eliminated from the post season, fired coach Peter DeBoer on Monday, signing Claude Noel in what looks like an interim role. Under DeBoer, the Eagles started the season very slowly and by the third week in November, GM Michael Sauer had had enough. Reports that DeBoer was feuding with some of the team’s top players led to a spate of changes. DeBoer stayed, but a November purge known as the Johanson Days saw trades that sent away Dustin Brown, Rick Nash, Sam Gagner, Michal Neuvirth and Thomas Hickey. Coming to Sweden in return were Brayden Holtby, Jeff Carter, James Van Riemsdyk, Ryan Johansen, Marcus Johansson and Magnus Johansson. Holtby has been very good for Stockholm (89.4 save percentage) and at 23, his best years are ahead of him. The same can be said of Johansen, who is only 21. But Magnus Johansson managed just a single point in 32 games with the Eagles and was later traded to Munich for Anton Babchuk, who has contributed with just one point in 13 games. The fact DeBoer couldn’t get more out of former Madrid Royal Jeff Carter, 28, might have sealed the coach’s fate. Carter was a key piece in the Johanson Days trades and had come to Stockholm with a 41-goal season under his belt. At the time of the trade, he was producing nearly a point per game. But in his 45 games in Sweden, Carter produced at about half that rate, with 13 goals and 24 points. Through the turmoil in Stockholm, a few players have done well. Mike Richards is producing a better rate than he has in the past, although his penalty minutes have spiked, probably a sign of the frustration he and his teammates have felt. Rookie Marcus Foligno is the team’s best plus-minus player in fourth-line duty, and defenseman Jason Demers has improved his plus-minus rating by 29 since a year ago.
It isn’t known whether it was DeBoer, Carter or the rest of the Stockholm players who were the problem, but with DeBoer now gone, the pressure will be on the players to show the rest of the league’s GMs that they weren’t the issue. Stockholm is last in the league in goals per game (2.56) and shots per game (25.6). Noel is considered a better offensive coach than DeBoer and he is among the top 10 coaches in power play success. Next season, the Eagles will look a lot like this year’s Eagles unless more trades are made. Most Stockholm players have multi-year contracts with the club. Of the five who are on the final year of their Type 3 contracts, three are goalies and none is the starter. With Holtby in place for two more years at the relatively miniscule paycheck of $637,777, Stockholm has options at the goalie position and Jonas Hiller, Mika Kiprusoff and Ray Emery all have to be wondering about their futures.