Yesterday, the Red Wings made their fifth loan of a player and/or prospect to a European team, with Filip Hronek being officially loaned to Mountfield Hradec Kralove of the Czech Extraliga.
Hronek joins Moritz Seider (Adler Mannheim, DEL), Filip Zadina (Ocelari Trinec, Czech Extraliga), Gustav Lindstrom (Almtuna IS, Swedish Allsvenskan) and Mattias Brome (Orebro, Swedish Hockey League) as the Wings’ players likely to play European hockey games before the Red Wings theoretically open camp in mid-November (Coronavirus recovery strategy willing).
MLive’s Ansar Khan, the Free Press’s Helene St. James and the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan discussed the player loans on Friday, and I wanted to address some aspects of the Wings’ decision to allow said players to play in Europe.
I know that there was an assumption that a significant chunk of the Wings’ roster was going over to Europe to play for a couple of months for shits and giggles while waiting for the NHL (and AHL) to start up play in December (or whenever that may be, perhaps still in a “bubble” format). That’s not turned out to be the case, and I don’t expect to witness an European exodus of Red Wings players, even if the NHL has to postpone the start of the 2020-2021 season, for several reasons:
- The biggest issue standing in the way of player loans is simple–it’s “fit”: most European teams are done playing by the end of April at the very latest, so their rosters are built over the course of May, June and July, so there isn’t necessarily a lot of space for players to skate on a European team and take a roster spot if they’re only going to be there for a month or two. A player “on loan” might take ice time from a star player or top prospect, and no team wants to screw up its team dynamic for the simple sake of earning “brownie points” from an NHL team, or bringing back a sentimental favorite.
- Second (and more importantly), insurance is major issue. The Czech and American websites alike initially indicated that Joe Veleno was going to join Trinec alongside Zadina, but that never happened for reasons that remain unspecified, and it took over a month for Mountfield HK, a bigger-market team, to snag the insurance necessary to sign Hronek, as well as Almtuna IS to navigate the issues necessary to bring Lindstrom into the fold. It makes sense that guys on entry-level deals were easier to insure, but it still took weeks and months (in some cases) to get the Wings’ prospects inked.
- “Fit” goes both ways. All these players are going to be playing for their “parent clubs”–Hronek still trains with his “mother club” in Mountfield HK; Seider has been training with Adler Mannheim, which he played for as a 17-year-old, throughout the summer; Zadina grew up playing for HC Pardubice, but his dad, Marek, is an assistant coach on former Buffalo Sabre Vaclav Varada’s coaching staff with Trinec; in Gustav Lindstrom’s case, it would have been ideal to have him play in the SHL as opposed to the Allsvenskan, the Swedish version of the AHL, but he trains with Almtuna, and the SHL got very itchy regarding the concept of affording NHL players a fall vacation at the expense of the development of their own players; and, along those lines, the Red Wings were able to loan out Brome to Orebro because he still has a valid SHL contract with the team from which the Red Wings signed him.
- Finally, there’s an element of acceptable risk for both players, the teams to which they’ve been loaned, and the Red Wings. It’s one thing if a player tweaks something in the gym while training with their “parent club”; it’s another if they sustain an injury that will result in them missing NHL time (even if it’s just in theory).
Long story long, the Red Wings were able to exploit situations in which home-grown players were able to latch on with their developmental “mother clubs” due to a combination of afforded contract insurance and enough of a “fit” that the European teams felt that the boost added by providing NHL youngsters a place to play was worth sacrificing a roster spot on teams that were largely already built into their 2020-2021 season formations a couple of months ago.
There aren’t many spots available on European-based teams these days, but both the European teams and the Red Wings were able to create “win-win” situations for everybody involved, all while assuming as little risk as possible.
It would not surprise me if another prospect or three landed with an European-based team while the NHL and AHL prepare for what is a mid-European-season December return (with the exception of the DEL, which won’t start play until November), but it’s not as easy as dangling a talented player in front of the teams that molded them and getting a deal done.
Between “fit” for the team, insurance, “fit” for the player, and the risk of injury, you’re talking about a significant number of variables, so we’re just not talking about a climate where it’s easy to give a leg up to players who can benefit from a European sojourn.