If you were an NHL player in the midst of a lockout, you’d have a handful of options with only one thing for certain: at some point you need to be on the ice playing the game, staying sharp and in shape.

Today Pierre Lebrun of ESPN shared this news:

The German elite league is one of the more highly regarded European leagues, and probably sits alongside the Swedish elite league in second behind the KHL, in terms of quality of play.

To be clear about one thing, that’s not the same as “quality of life.” I’ve heard many, many (many) accounts of scary stories from guys who gave Russia’s best league a go.

There are other options, of course. You could go play in the Swiss league, enjoy some beautiful scenery, have a high quality of life, and play against lesser players (god is it fitting that Thornton and Nash choose to play there, but that’s a post for another day).

So what’s the best thing to do: always pit yourself against the world’s toughest talent, make the most money, and wring the most out of yourself, or take the year as a gift, not abuse your body as much, have some fun and enjoy some of the finest countryside Europe has to offer? The latter might make you better down the road, and help your performance when the NHL resumes on November 15th (I mean, I dunno, I’m just throwing numbers out here). Rest is key, and you can always sharpen back up – hence why some great NHLers don’t touch ice until August.

Obviously it comes down to your priorities, your personal situation and personal interests, but I know a couple things: my own, and what I’ve heard from other hockey friends around the world about certain European leagues.

If I were a highly-desired NHL player, I would choose the following five leagues in the following order – obviously your opinions are welcome in the comments, assuming they’re exactly the same as mine otherwise YOU’RE WRONG.

(For the purposes of everyone’s understanding, I’m going to refer to the different leagues by how we know them, because saying that I’d like to play in the Elitserien means basically nothing to most people.)

1. Swiss Elite League – Yes, it’s true: I’m far too much like Joe Thornton and Rick Nash in terms of mindset (getting to “grr” isn’t easy), and not enough like them in terms of hockey ability (and raw size). “The NHL season is a grind” is among the clichiest of clichés, but like most, there’s something to it. 82 games plus playoffs is vicious, and if I had a mid-career chance to just let shit heal, dominate a few games (man scoring is fun), and see a part of the world I always wanted to, SOLD. Maybe I’m not competitive enough.

Okay, I’m not competitive enough.

2. Swedish Elite League – A lot of things that appeal to me about playing in Switzerland appeal to me about playing in Sweden. A place I’d love to visit, plenty of english speakers, and a high quality of living. The hockey would be great and keep you sharp, but still wouldn’t be as physically demanding as the NHL. Also, blondes. Blondes everywhere (oh crap we just got internet in our apartment, brunette wife may be reading this).

3. German elite league – Good hockey, solid pay, great location, Oktoberfest, beer, beerfest, the festival of beer, chocolate.

4. Finnish elite league: Basically, at this point, I’ve made it clear that I think I’d like Scandanavia, and I’m just fighting going to the KHL.

5. Russian elite league (KHL): It’s hard to deny that making more money is cooler than making less money. Playing in the world’s best (active) hockey league is an honour, challenging, and will make you a better player down the road (assuming you’re durable). At some point…at some point I would say yes, and go play in Russia.

Comments (21)

  1. Good reason to stay away from the KHL- the goon squad with Yablonski.

  2. Traveled to Sweden this summer … it’s an ELITE League, let me tell you.

    Didn’t see anything hockey related the whole time.

    If anyone reading this has yet to graduate university … find an exchange program, or just go there and study … like right now.

    • A certain Islander family (not one I’m connected to) brought across an Au Pair from Sweden, had to send her back after the wife saw her.

  3. Where would going down to the AHL rank?

    • That would totally depending on my situation…I’d have no problem with it in most cases.

  4. No love for the Czech Republic?

    Anyway, nice to see the next chapter in the Giroux/Briere bromance: Berlin Diary.

  5. Germany’s DEL has the worst league of the five you mentioned in terms of quality (this is coming from an Adler Mannheim fan!)

    I love it that many europeans come back to their former teams (Goc and Seidenberg, yay!)

    Switzerland’s league has better quality, which explains why their national team is generally better than ours!
    I think your really underselling the swiss league and overselling the german one!!

    My personal preferences would be:

    Swiss NLA: Pretty good league, beautiful country
    Sweden’s Elitserien: Skilled League, very nice quality of life
    Germany (home…)
    Finland
    Czech Republic

  6. Totally with you on the ‘take an easy, scenic year’ thing… unless I hope to be making an impression for my next contract.

  7. Swiss league… no question. Beautiful place to live, something like 56 games total in a season. Practically none existent travel and what appears to be a practically non-contact style of hockey.
    I honestly wonder why so many guys stay in the US in the AHL if they have options like this. (lockout or no lockout)

    • In general, hockey players like contact.

      • Thomas has it correct. Why develop in a low contact league when you’re trying to make the NHL which is one of the roughest/toughest leagues in the world?

        However, this is the reason a lot of older ex-NHL guys can still play in the Euro leagues. Which is good and more power to them.

  8. Based on my last trip over there it’d be Germany, Sweden, Czech and England in that order. I’m completely with you on the take it easy and enjoy everything else route. Then again, I wasn’t very competitive either.

  9. I’d probably go Swiss first too.

    1. Swiss
    2. Czech
    3. Swede
    4. German

    I might also just throw the hockey-loving-world for a loop and sign somewhere like the Asian league and rack up an obscene number of goals. Nippon Paper Cranes!

  10. The EIHL in England/Scotland/Ireland would be pretty awesome if they would pay you enough. But maybe as an Irish-Scottish dude, I am more predisposed to wanting to spend some time there. Oh, and it’s terrible so you could bury all day long.

  11. Id like it if a TV contract for juniors would be picked up stateside. I could get into the CHL.

  12. German elite league = elite beer league

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