Editor’s note: I’ll attempt to get back into writing about our league, although I can’t promise much regularity. This will help me get my life back to normal, if that’s what one could call what I had going.
This is a look around the league as most teams are 31 games into the season.
Teams – The defending champs are where everyone thought they would be – in first overall – but this season has already seen some Cinderella stories. The Geneva Generals jumped out to a great start but have fallen apart recently and are currently in 9th place in the Southern Conference. Bratislava outshot Minsk 40-19 in their last game – a shootout win – and are at the top of the Southern Conference, making them the biggest surprise of the season thus far. At the top of that conference are six teams within 8 points of each other, and currently Madrid and Lisbon are slightly ahead of perennial powers Paris and Berlin. Switzerland is not seeing much joy in Season 7. All three Swiss teams are currently out of playoff positions.
In the North, longtime powers Belfast (the EURO’s best defensive team thus far) and Moscow are tucked in second and third, but the two Swedish teams are right behind them and have both shown they can play with anyone. The Copenhagen Tridents have the lowest payroll in the league and they are making a major comeback from a season that saw them drop to within a point of last place in the league. The Danes are currently 7th in the conference. Oslo is another team that is on the rise. They placed 24th overall again last year, but they won’t be there this season and they are currently 20th overall and just 3 points out of the playoffs. The Brexit vote was big news in England during the last year – almost as big as Leicester’s Premier League championship – but the London Dons are grabbing headlines too, dropping from 11th overall in Season 6 to the very bottom of the league now.
Forward lines – An interesting race has developed in two cities for the right to say they have the most dangerous line in the league. Lisbon and Minsk have behemoth top lines that are powering their offenses at the moment. Matt Moulson has been a welcomed addition in Lisbon, complementing Steven Stamkos and John Tavares on the top line. They have combined for 133 points so far. Minsk’s feared line of Nicklas Backstrom, Patrick Kane and Milan Lucic helped the team win a Cup last season and so far this season, they have combined for 130 points. But winning isn’t all about scoring goals. Team depth, checking, shot blocking, winning puck battles and puck possession are among the other factors that go into it, and Madrid’s top line of Patrik Berglund, Blake Wheeler and Gabriel Landeskog are a good example of line that must be doing all those things well. The trio has only put up 78 points but it is plus 11 and the team is currently 4th overall with two games in hand over the two teams ahead of them.
Defense pairs – Minsk has two of the best pairs in Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto and Max Chudinov and Janne Niskala. The latter pair is tops among defensemen in plus-minus and the McDonagh-Del Zotto duo is tops in scoring. Lisbon’s Drew Doughty and Jared Spurgeon are among the leaders in plus-minus as are Belfast’s top pair of Justin Faulk and P.K. Subban and their third pair of Cody Franson and Micki Dupont.
Individuals – Milan Lucic of Minsk has spent most of the season as the league’s leading scorer, but he’s got a lot of company near the top now. The league’s top goal scorer, Loui Eriksson of Athens, has tied him at 49 points and Steven Stamkos of Lisbon is at 48 points. Matt Duchene of Belfast has been outstanding in Season 7. He leads all players in plus/minus rating and he’s fourth overall in scoring.
Pleasant surprises include Brandon Dubinsky, 31, of Copenhagen, who is in the Top 25 in scoring and Mats Zuccarello of Stockholm. Zuccarello came to the Eagles in a trade with St. Petersburg and he has absolutely blossomed in Sweden. Playing on the team’s second line with David Krejci and Bryan Little, Zuccarello is second on his team in scoring behind Krejci and he’s tied for 15th in the league. In his three seasons in St. Pete, Zuccarello topped out at 26 points but he already has 34 points in 31 games with Krejci and crew. Other players in the Top 50 in scoring who most would not have predicted seeing include Marcus Kruger of Milan, Devin Setoguchi of Copenhagen and Petr Vrana of Gothenburg. As for defensemen, rookie Shayne Gostibehere of Oslo is making a name for himself straight away, with 24 points. That total puts him a point behind co-league leaders Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, who are both Minsk Hussars. Gostisbehere is also the EURO’s second-best shot blocker with 53 in 31 games, just one back of teammate Viktor Antipin. Among goalies, second-year man Andrew Hammond of Milan leads the league in save percentage at 91.8 percent.
Disappointments include goalies Henrik Lundquist of Helsinki (87.9 save percentage), Jakub Kovar of Edinburgh (88.3) and Tuuka Rask of Paris (88.5), who have all cost their teams some wins. Up front, Belfast is getting nothing from Vladimir Tarasenko and Mikael Granlund. Each player has no goals and just one assist this season. Brock Nelson of Milan has the same stats line. In St. Petersburg, Joe Thornton, 38, has just a goal and an assist this season. Zurich is having a surprisingly poor season this far and part of the reason is the uncharacteristic poor play of Jussi Jokinen and Patrick Sharp who have 6 and 5 points, respectively. And in Paris, David Perron has never scored fewer than 50 points in a season, but he won’t get there this season with only 7 points through 28 games. Jamie Benn of Edinburgh has had a tough year. Expected to be among the Top 50 in scoring, Benn is well down the list with 15 points and he’s minus 20. Other big names who are having trouble getting going include Evander Kane of Belfast, Nick Foligno of Geneva, Criag Smith of Munich and Jaden Schwartz of Milan.