One of the more interesting things about an extended lockout is the opportunity to see NHL players mix with non-NHLers in various European leagues. When you look at the top of any league’s scoring chart, there tends to be mixture of proven NHL talent, and players in the prime of their careers who haven’t been able to find a regular gig in the best league in the world. Every NHL team wants to find reliable scoring, and seasons like this one tend to highlight some players who might be able to fill that role but haven’t yet had a chance.
Of course, reliable scoring isn’t just expensive because it tends to cost a lot of money. Trying a new player also carries a huge opportunity cost, and it’s that opportunity cost, which sometimes sees really effective players change teams with almost nothing going the other way. Rich Peverley is a recent example of a player who couldn’t get a consistent opportunity in a scoring role with his first NHL organization despite sterling numbers in the AHL. But after Peverley moved to Atlanta, he was given that chance immediately, and had tremendous success. The same thing is true of AHL stars P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson who both established themselves with the New York Islanders in their mid-twenties after failing to get an opportunity elsewhere.
So which players might be worth taking a chance on for teams who have room on their roster to give a player with a history of success in lower leagues a chance? Today, I’ll take a look at some candidates from Switzerland’s National League.
First up, let’s take a look at all of the forwards under thirty currently scoring at a point per game pace who also scored at least 0.7 points per game in their primary league in 2011-12:
It’s an interesting group of players. We’ve got seven players who are stars in the NHL and four players who have established themselves as stars in lesser leagues. If you were an NHL team with an opportunity, these four guys would be a good place to start. So why haven’t these guys had an opportunity as yet?
It probably makes sense to start by acknowledging that Linus Omark has. He received top nine minutes and some power play time with the Oilers in 2010-11, and didn’t produce. Some of that may well be a lack of skill, but a 95.7 PDO during five-on-five play certainly didn’t help. Luck is an enormous factor when it comes to getting opportunity, so despite some promising signs during his first NHL season, a combination of poor performance, better top nine options, bad luck, injury, and bad attitude left Omark out of the mix for much of 2011-12.
One item that hurt Omark, and hurts a couple of others on our list is size. Brunner, Omark, and Micflikier are all under six feet tall, and Micflikier is listed at just 5’8”. These measurements always need to be taken with a grain of salt, but there were only thirteen players listed at 5’8” or shorter who earned at least a game in the NHL during the 2011-12 season.
For Brunner and Sprunger, exposure and degree of difficulty has also been something of a problem as neither player has played in a league outside of Switzerland. Brunner also hadn’t played in a major international tournament until the 2010 World Championships, which means he wouldn’t have had many NHL teams giving him a lot of looks. Sprunger played much more intenationally (2004 and 2005 World Junior tournaments plus the World Championships in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 as well as the 2010 Olympics), and was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in 2004, but never came to North America. It seems likely to me that Sprunger isn’t interested in N.A. hockey unless it comes with an NHL paycheck (and David Backes is kicked out of the league).
So who has the rights to these players now? Brunner signed a one-year deal with Detroit during the off-season and will be in a dogfight for ice time if the season ever gets started. Omark and Micflikier are without NHL contracts after playing in the AHL last season, and both signed one-year deals in Switzerland. Omark’s NHL rights are owned by the Oilers, while Micflikier is an unrestricted free agent. Sprunger is also an unrestricted free agent for NHL purposes, but is signed to contract in Switzerland through 2013-14.
I think that these players should be attractive for most NHL teams. They all have a decent chance of providing reasonable offense at a very cheap price tag, which allows teams to spend more money elsewhere. That’s attractive to everyone, but I think that it should be particularly attractive to a rich club that can afford to bury a deal that doesn’t work out in the minors (assuming that option isn’t quashed in the new CBA). Would a player like Julien Sprunger be open to a four-year deal paying him $1M or less? If so, there’s tremendous upside in a deal like that for a team willing to spend more than the cap in order to get themselves a competitive advantage.
Previously by Scott Reynolds
- Playing with Crosby and IPP
- Using Goal Differential to Predict the Future
- How Often Does Rebuilding Work?
- Time on Ice – Goaltenders
- AHL Salaries 2012-13 – Opening Night Rosters