It’s obviously the consensus amongst hockey fans in North America, but I think most fans of European hockey would agree too: the NHL is the best league in the world.

Because of that fact, when there’s a lockout, most of us have a pretty predictable reaction: “oh man, when these NHLers join those lesser leagues, they’re going to own those guys – the KHL…ha!”

So when you pull up the Top 5 Scorers list in the KHL and don’t see any NHL players, you may have the same reaction as many others. “…Hm.”

Well, there’s Alexander Radulov, but he’s not exactly “an NHLer,” so…where are they? Kovalchuk has 10 points in a mere six games, which makes you wonder: what should our expectation of them be? Aren’t they supposed to be dominating like the CKSA captain?

A quick bounce around the other European leagues looks much the same. No player that we’d consider an “NHLer” is running show anywhere else. There were a few notable names (generous review) hovering around top 10′s, but nobody’s threatening a top spot – Linus Omark and Cody Almond are on the Swiss Elite League board, Filip Forsberg is on the Swedish second league’s (I know, I’m reaching), Alex Steen is in the mix in the Swedish elite league, Ville Niemenen is fifth in the Finnish league (again, reaching), but other than that…nobody. Not a single recognizable NHLer shows up as a top scorer in the German or Danish elite leagues. Frans Nielsen, where you at, homie? (Note: he has four assists in four games. I’ll give that a “meh.”)

During the last lockout, as I recently wrote, there were some success stories:

1) ECHL: Scott Gomez wins scoring title and league MVP
2) AHL: Jason Spezza scores 117 points, wins scoring title and league MVP
3) SEL (Swedish Elite League): Henrik Zetterberg racks up 50 points, wins scoring title
4) SEL: Henrik Lundqvist wins league MVP and Best Goalie award
5) DEL(Deutsche Eishockey Liga, AKA German Hockey League): Mike York (wait, who?), 2nd in league scoring
6) DEL: Eric Cole, MVP of playoffs

But I want it happening on a broad scale, and I want it happening now. Like most NHL fans, I hope for complete and utter ownership of those leagues. So, let’s first take a look at reasons why players may fare as they do, and then lay down reasonable expectations for our favourite players battling it out in other leagues.

Excuses:

* Adjusting to a new style

European hockey is, believe it or not, not North American hockey. North American hockey qualifies as a lot more of a “north-south” game that placing emphasis on driving the far post, finishing your check, taking the hit to make the play and getting pucks in deep (guh, what a terrible style). European play is more about puck possession (allow me to generalize here), more east-west, and more “don’t fire until you see the whites of their twine.”

That’ll take some adjusting for NHL players, as what they’re used to doing may not be as effective in a different style of play. Changes in the size of the ice in some places will have an affect on them too.

* Comfort level

While getting settled off the ice is one thing (and actually, a fairly sizable thing), getting settled on the ice matters too. Hesitating because you’re not sure of a new system, of new linemates, and a new language can hamper a player’s ability to be effective early on. There’s bound to be an adjustment period.

* Reffing

All three things mentioned so far really come down to getting used to what’s wanted and what’s not wanted within a hockey game over there. Ryan Hollweg is a bit of a thug, but 91 minutes in PIMs and a six game suspension – after three games in Europe – definitely means things are a bit different than they are on this side of the pond. Hell, his suspension play would’ve been two minutes in North America, had the ref decided not to call a dive on Petrovicky.

* They’re targeted

There’s a measure of pride to be upheld when the feriners (foreigners) come to your league and try to steal the show, so it’s likely NHL stars are seeing an extra spot of attention.

* Improved leagues

The KHL has easily seen the biggest influx in NHL talent (good hockey and they pay well), and it’s not like all the guys went to one squad. Most teams have a few NHL players that have improved their overall talent level from previous seasons.

* Oh yeah, those other leagues aren’t jokes

As much as I’ve enjoyed playing the “NHL RULES” card, the gap between the KHL and NHL is not what someone like Ryan Lambert would have you believe. There’s a number of quality hockey players over there, and the fact that some of the NHL players may be incrementally better doesn’t mean it’s going to be utter dominance every time they hit the ice.

Expectations

Other players and leagues have been catching up to the NHL since the last lockout, so you can’t expect an NHL player to lead every league in scoring. What I also don’t expect, is maximum effort. Even last night, after I wrote my post on the stacked Alaska Aces, I heard news from people in Alaska that the NHLers on the team were flat-out not trying. They want to stay in shape, but proving their better than ECHLers is not a top priority for them, and it may be the same for, say, Joe Thornton in the Swiss elite league.

What I think is fair, is that our offensive stars playing in foreign leagues show up on page one of the points leaderboard. They should at least make it clear that they’re elite at that level. They don’t have to prove they’re the best, but c’mon guys, we have some face to save here. The NHL is embarrassing enough as is these days – please don’t pile on the North American hockey fans by sucking it up in Europe.

Comments (13)

  1. :cough: Patrice Bergeron had two goals and two assists last night in his first Swiss League game. Just sayin. :-)

  2. Also, no training camp for the NHL’ers going over. While one would expect them to be in top shape and ready to play after working out all summer (yeah right), there’s gotta be a little rust just jumping into season already underway.

    • Points per Game would be more realistic here because they jumped into a season already underway. That list of leaders in the KHL above would look like:

      1.07 PPG
      .88 PPG
      1.07 PPG
      1.27 PPG
      1.17 PPG

      Kovalchuck, with his 10 points in 6 games is at 1.67 PPG… slightly above the others, no?

      • This, I bet if you sort by PPG the list changes quite a bit. Those season started before a lot of NHLers signed.

        • Yeah, I noted Kovalchuk was doing exceptionally well. Would like to see it by PPG myself, but that site exactly easy to navigate/sort like NHL.com.

      • yes we understand that… kovulchuk is having a great start. but that’s one player… there r other nhls with less some with far less ppg.

  3. I think the “they’re targeted” section is huge and people forget this. Some guy playing on the 2nd or 3rd line in the NHL isn’t going up against the top defenders in the world like the 1st line NHLers see. Now that they’re on some team in Germany on the first line, they’re seeing the opponents top defenders. Teams spend forever focusing on Crosby and Malkin when they get ready to play the Pens that guys like Matt Cooke or Tyler Kennedy are overlooked and can get away with a little more. (Bad choice of words with Matt Cooke involved)

    • what r u talking about…

      look at the khl. nhl a class elite talent in ovechkin, malkin, kovulchuk, datsyuk and others r playing on their respective rental clubs first line. they are going up against khl top defensmen and some of these players r going up against world class defenders including chara, visnovsky and others. what people r baffled at now are that they are playing in a league not called the nhl and they are not dominating like we thought.

      why? cuz maybe the khl is a stronger league than we thought. yes being adapted to the teams style can def affect stats, but i def believe the khl ia stronger than we thought.

      Germab league has players also who are use to playing on nhl top line, some playing for second line. they are a top 6 talent and thats why these clubs bought these players. but none of them r dominating like we thought.

      cant blame refs. cant blame attitude. there still top end talents but the leagues over there r more challengin then we believed

  4. All the NHL players went over when the seasons for the European leagues had already started which means they’ve played less games. 10 points in 6 games is better than 15 points in 15 games. Kovalchuk is on pace for 30 points in 18 games. Malkin, Ovechkin, Datsyuk, etc will all be at the top once the season hits the midway point. Definitely by the end of it.

  5. Love the article but like you said these top leagues are better than the last lockout and improving evert year. Yes the nhl has grown in skill and popularity in recent years but so has european and world hockey in general.

    first off, i expect these nhl superstars to still be superstars because they are the worlds best talent. and they are on the rise and doing their job and easily taking the top two lines or top two pairings of any euro team. but we cant act as though nhl b class players r expected to dominate as well. too many people are believing that if its not the nhl, its not a good league and thats garbage.

    so no one can expect every nhler to be on every leagues top 5 stats but do understand as the season goes on and these players get comfortable with their teams than they will put up points. we cant act tho as every nhl player is 2x better than every euro player.

    malkin was the leagues mvp,, but hes not on the khl top 20. hes use to the style the culture the language and so all i have to say is that the khl is no garbage league. simple as that

    do not bring up echl or ahl hockey, these are strong leagues but their development players. of course spezza and gomez are gonna do well

  6. Kovalchuk, Datsyuk, Malkin, Ovechkin, Voracek..even Gonchar are all on PPG pace in KHL. Thornton/Nash PPG in Swiss league. PPG makes most of them instantly the best performing player on their respective teams and isn’t that most people’s expectations? This article is written as if everyone expected these guys to get a hat trick every game.
    Most people have seen enough international hockey to know that there are other countries out there that can play hockey. Its been proven that the NHL has the best players because they are the best players in the international tournaments, for every country.

  7. You forgot to factor in that most of the guys who chose to play in Europe are treating it as an experience and trying not to get hurt in case the NHL season resumes. Especially the guys in the Swiss League… they’re probably saving all their energy for the slopes and the Swiss Misses.

  8. Doesn’t Tomas Plekanec have like 2 PPG in the Czech league?

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