The Sedin Twins, Naslund and the SEL Hornet’s Nest

Alex Steen made his controversial debut for Modo on Tuesday evening.

Today the Sedin twins turn 32 (and a happy birthday to them both). Their purpose on this Earth is to deliver sweet tape-to-tape backhand saucer passes to each other, and Canucks fans have been very fortunate to get to watch and enjoy their careers over the past decade. 

There has been a lot of speculation about where the Sedin twins might end up playing in the event that the NHL lockout goes for a full season. It’s possible that their reluctance to commit to playing in Sweden’s top-tier professional hockey league is connected to the fact that the NHL Lockout has exported its internecine strife abroad to the Scandinavian peninsula (and to the KHL as well, for that matter).

Read on past the jump.

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In the aftermath of the hockeyligan’s (the 12 teams in the Swedish Elite League) initial decision to forbid NHLers from joining their ranks, and the "Swedish Competition Authority" ruling last week declaring that initial decision null and void; the SEL is in the process of being torn asunder by nastiness and political posturing. 

Expressen’s Jonatan Lindquist explained the situation to Canucks Army by e-mail:

It all started when the SEL announced that they wouldn’t be allowing any short term contracts this upcoming season. This is nothing new, the rule was already there. In the past clubs have made a habit of signing good foreign players to deals that only lasted six months (for tax reasons). This meant that players were often forced to leave the teams during the playoffs… Anyway, there has always been an exception to the ban of short term-contracts: if a player is injured, you are allowed to replace him with a player [on a short-term contract] for that period of time.

So, with the upcoming lockout in mind the league stated that the rule would remain and therefore teams wouldn’t be able to sign any locked out NHLers to deals that didn’t last for the entire season (regardless of when the lockout ended).

This was released as a unanimous decision, which later was revealed by my paper Expressen to be false. Modo, Timrå, Frölunda and Brynäs voted against this.

When Modo first lost Sammuel Påhlsson (untill christmas) and then Mattias Ritola (until sometime in early October) they needed to bring in a centerman. And this is where Steen comes into the picture. Modo argued that Steen was a fair replacement for Påhlsson but then the league was quick to announce that there was a complete ban of all locked out NHL-players.

This is the point in the story where things take a nasty turn.

Alex Steen and Tobias Enstrom’s representative Kalle Bodén began to criticize the league in the media, and threatened to sue the SEL – which he eventually did. The case went before the Konkurrensverket (KKV) which translates to the "Swedish Competition Authority," and they struck down the SEL’s banning NHL players from their league on anti-trust grounds. 

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The league then decided to appeal, though Frölunda broke ranks and made it clear that they would prefer to sign NHLers. Modo followed suit issuing a press release condemning the decision to appeal, and they issued that release at a particularly awkward moment  when according to Lindquist: "director of the elitleague Jörgen Lindgren was in the television studio" prior to a slate of prime time games this past Saturday. As of this writing, the SEL’s appeal hasn’t been heard yet.

Following the KKV’s decision, Modo went about dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s on getting Alex Steen into the lineup (he debuted for Modo last night). Modo is arguing that he’s an injury replacement so he qualifies under that particular loop-hole, even if the legal situation hasn’t quite yet been resolved. The reaction from other SEL teams has been so explosive that it’s reminiscent of that classic public battle between Kevin Lowe and Brian Burke over the Dustin Penner offer sheet. Uffe Bodin of described it to us as "basically chaos within the SEL."

The President of Linköping argued that signing locked out NHLers would harm the league as a whole,  Färjestad’s communications chief accused Modo of going behind the backs of other Hockeyligan clubs and suggested that there was a conflict of interest at play since Kalle Bodén’s brother Henrik is one of Modo’s board members (the post has been scrubbed from the team site). That particular nicety resulted in former Calgary Flame (and Färjestad veteran) Hakan Loob suggesting that the column went a bit too far.

Meanwhile Anders Öman (President of the Växjö Lakers) suggested on Twitter that, in response to Modo’s courting of NHLers, the SEL should sign two lines worth of the best NHLers available, locate them permenantly in Örnsköldsvik, and loan them out to every team that Modo faces for the duration of the lockout.

He clarified today that he was just passing along a quip from one of Växjö’s zamboni drivers, before doubling down and adding "today he changed it to four complete lines."

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Lindquist urges us not to "miss the pattern here." He points out that Modo (Steen, Enström, maybe the Sedins), Timrå (Zetterberg, Anders Lindbäck), Brynäs (Nicklas Bäckström) and Frölunda (Henrik Lundqvist, Erik Karlsson, Loui Eriksson) all have the most to gain from allowing NHL players to play in the SEL. Whereas "almost none of the other clubs have any superstars waiting to come home."

What’s particularly interesting is that, far from Steen’s debut "opening up the floodgates" for NHLers to sign with Hockeyligan clubs, today it appears to have had something of the opposite effect.

This morning Markus Naslund addressed the press, and closed the door on Modo coming to terms with defenseman Tobias Enstrom (who had been working out with the Swedish club). Expressen’s Av Henrik Sjöberg quotes Naslund (note this is from google translate) as saying: "We have no plans at present to bring in more players, the decision we took with Steen was because we have injuries to key players." That certainly doesn’t sound to me like floodgates opening.

Rather it sounds like Naslund and Modo are backing down somewhat, at least for now. Bodin hypothesizes that "[Naslund] wants things to calm down before making another move. The controversy surrounding the team might be taking away focus from the game itself."

Also this morning, Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson signed with Jokerit of the SM-Liga (the top professional league in Finland). It’s not yet clear whether or not political factors came into play in this case, and it’s certainly possible that Frölunda simply didn’t have the money to sign both Henrik Lundqvist and Erik Karlsson.

For what it’s worth, the club appeared to think they’d be able to get both players (as well as Loui Eriksson) under contract over the summer. But they also appear to be taking a more cautious, gradualist approach than Modo has with Alex Steen.  Bodin tells us that "Frolunda told me last night that they need at least three more weeks to decide whether or not they will sign anyone," so it’s also possible that their timeline "was too much for Karlsson’s patience."

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So what does all this rancor mean for the Canucks and the Sedin twins?

Well first off, it’s good news for Canucks prospect Henrik Tommernes – who has been chewing up big minutes on Frölunda’s top-pairing – that Erik Karlsson isn’t coming in to displace any of his 20+ minutes per game.

Secondly, I think this is useful context. The Sedin twins have been consistently non-committal in their stance toward returning to play for Naslund and Modo throughout the summer. And now that we know what sort of hornets nest awaits the twins should they decide to ply their trade for their hometown team during an NHL lockout, perhaps we can better understand why.