Hockey is, as the NHL loves to tell us (while Don Cherry cries), increasingly becoming a globalized game. Last season’s National Hockey League and Kontinental Hockey League rosters were loaded with players from all over Europe and North America. Why then, you might ask, should the SM-Liiga be any different? What’s the harm in bolstering Finland’s rosters with foreign talent?
The past few weeks in the SM-Liiga have seen no fewer than 7 North Americans signed to Finnish teams. These players are not, mind you, ones most would consider impact players. Of the North Americans recently signed, only one, Ben Eaves, has been drafted by an NHL team (PIT, #131, 2001). The others have all played in the NCAA, and many have had a cup of coffee (or at least, a whiff of the coffee) with an AHL or ECHL team. Check out these statistics (Name, age — SM-Liiga Team — Size — Stats):
Ben Eaves, 27 — F — Jokerit Helsinki — 5’8″– 25pts, 32 SM-Liiga games
Jeremy Dehner, 23 — D — Jokerit — 5’9″– 13G, 160 games UMass-Lowell
Blake Gallagher, 22 — F – Jokerit — 5’7″ — 37pts, 34gms Cornell
Evan Barlow, 24 — F – IFK Helsinki — 5’9″ — 75pts, 58gms Idaho ECHL
Eddie DelGrosso, 25 — D — IFK Helsinki — 5’10″– 109pts, 160gms, U of Nebraska-Omaha
Aaron Brocklehurst, 25 — D — Lukko Rauma– 5’10″– 68pts in 127 ECHL gms
So, these guys are all products of the NCAA, they’re all young, and they’re all small. Nothing against any of them personally, but I have to believe that the SM-Liiga, and Finnish hockey in general, would be better served by allowing Finnish players to fill these roster spots and get some experience in the country’s top league. Why sign foreign players who are so similar to the Finns they will displace?
The NHL and the Russian KHL have, in recent years, reduced the depth of this league. They’ve skimmed the cream off the top, so to speak. Fewer and fewer of Finland’s top players spend their seasons playing in Finland. In fact, in Vancouver, the 23-player Finnish Olympic roster featured not a single man who plies his trade for an SM-Liiga team.
Right now, (and for the forseeable future) the SM-Liiga cannot compete financially with the world’s premier leagues. The top players will continue to be courted and signed away by foreign teams with deep pockets. It weakens the league, but is a fact of life in the business of ‘globalized’ hockey. Finland should, then, be focussed on developing its young players. And players need to play to develop. Why import a 5’9″ American, or a 5’7″ Canuck when there are plenty of hungry, undersized Finns right here? Foreigners also send to sign more lucrative contracts than similarly-skilled Finns and, just like the most successful Finns, tend to leave to the greener pastures of the NHL or KHL given the chance. (American Lee Sweatt and Finn Ilari Filppula, teammates on Finnish Champion TPS this past spring, signed with the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings respectively, over the summer.)
The money used to ‘rent’ mediocre foreigners could be used to develop Finland’s own players. There is a talent drain from this league — and young Finns should be the ones plugging the holes.
About the Author
Written by Laura Rollins
A Canadian coaching hockey in Finland.