The Stockholm daily Aftonbladet reports that the Russian K.H.L. will contribute up to $4.25 million to a special commission of Swedish hockey officials that is studying a potential merger between the Swedish Elitserien and the K.H.L. The commission, which is headed by Färjestad director Håkan Loob and includes the directors of four other Elitserien clubs, is investigating the advisability of the Swedish league joining with the Russians to create a pan-European circuit that would be rich enough to keep more homegrown talent from leaving for the N.H.L. -- or that could force the N.H.L. to finally start paying graduated transfer fees for individual players. Among all the top European domestic leagues, only the Finnish SM-liiga has a transfer agreement with the N.H.L.An interesting power play if there ever was one. We North Americans really misjudge just how big of an issue the transfer issue is.
It has the significant potential to greatly reduced the number of new European players coming to the NHL. This is the first summer without a transfer agreement, and we are already seeing a dramatic change. So far this summer the NHL has only signed 23 new European players - 11 of which are Swedes - marking a 46% drop from last year.
The lack of a transfer agreement even scared off teams at the NHL draft table in July. Only 24.9% of draftees were European, by far the lowest such total this decade.
One season is too early to definitively blame the lack of a transfer agreement for declining European content in the NHL. It may be just a weak year for Europeans or perhaps more Europeans are just staying home or going to the KHL rather than risk playing in the American minor leagues. But it is an alarming coincidence to say the least.
By the way, 25 NHL players have signed in Europe this summer. There has never been a reverse transfer arrangement compensating NHL teams.