SM-liiga says farewell to players
The lockout is finally over and the last of the domestic lockout players are leaving Finland this week. There were total of 32 NHL players, who visited the SM-Liiga (Finnish National League) during the NHL lockout. Above all was Erik Karlsson, who played for Jokerit, scoring 34 points in 30 games. During his stay he was many times referred as the best foreigner to ever play in the league, by many local sports journalists. Also Mikkel Bödker (Phoenix) made an impact with his 21 goals and 12 assists in 27 games for Lukko. Bödker left Finland as the highest scoring player in the league. The best North American Lockout player was Rich Peverley of Boston, who scored 23 points in his 27 games with JYP. Followed closely by Jason Demers of the Sharks, with 21 points in his 30 games with Kärpät.
For some the trip to Finland seemed to be worthwhile, as for others the cultural shock inside and outside of the rink seemed to be too much to bear. Usually the main pitfall for the North American players is the wider, European rink. There is more open ice to cover and therefore the player needs to be physically fit, if he wishes to succeed in SM-Liiga. Despite the fact that the game is on a different level in the NHL and the general skill level of the players is much higher, a poorly prepared NHL player has very little chance to dominate in the league. You may ask John Madden* (see footnotes).
The impact of the lockout players was somewhat two fold for HIFK. Two of the players, Mathieu Perreault and Sean Bergenheim were highly energetic and made an immediate impact, but didn't stay long enough to make a long term effect to the teams performance. On the other hand, Lennart Petrell and especially Stephane Robidas weren't quite able to perform on the level they were expected to despite they stayed with the team for most of the autumn.
The biggest surprise, in terms of the lockout players in HIFK, was Sean Bergenheim. That before his NHL career Bergenheim played for the local rival Jokerit as a junior and in the SM-League as well and was always considered as "one of them" by the HIFK fans. So it shocked many when he announced that he had always been a fan of HIFK and had always wished to play for the team. Sean arrived with a lot of enthusiasm to play for HIFK, but his visit lasted only two games and was cut short due to an injury. There was very little news about the true nature of his injury and he left under somewhat strange circumstances which indicates that there might be more to the story than it was generally told.
The most anticipated player, by the HIFK fans, was definitely Lennart Petrell. He left HIFK in 2011 to pursue a career in the NHL with the Edmonton Oilers. Before that, Petrell had represented HIFK for all of his career. Loved by the fans, he was given a warm welcome in his home coming game against Ilves. He went on to score a hat-trick that night. However after a good start his performance faded and only in his last few games before the end of Lockout his performance started to improve. On the other hand he was used most of the time in a fully defensive role in the fourth line and in penalty killing. Every time he was given the opportunity to play in a more offensive role he scored. Petrell's total points being 11+0 in 25 games.
Early in the autumn, HIFK acquired Stephane Robidas from the Dallas Stars. He started out strong, but as the season progressed he couldn't keep up. Having his plus/minus statistics at -11 (the worst in the team to date) it is evident that something in his game was not working. On the other hand, he still ranks second in the team's average time on ice chart with an average TOI of 23.35. What needs to be said in Robidas' defense is that the rest of the team wasn't performing any better at the time. However -11 is definitely not something that was expected from a NHL veteran.
Then, later in the fall, Mathieu Perreault arrived. He made an immediate impact, adding much needed depth to the roster. During Perreault's time in the HIFK, the overall performance of the team was consistently improved and the Perreault-Perrault (Joel Perrault, no relation) combination dominated on the power play. Matty was highly appreciated by the fans. If only he had arrived earlier in the season, he would have probably been one of the highest scoring lockout players in the league and his impact to HIFK's overall performance would have been higher, but unfortunately, he only joined the club for seven games.
Here's a list of all the NHL players who played in the SM-Liiga during the lockout. (Source: Iltalehti.fi)
(rank, name, NHL team, sm-liiga team, GP, G+A=P)
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa Senators, Jokerit 30, 9+25=34
- Mikkel Bödker, Phoenix Coyotes, Lukko 27, 21+12=33
- Jesse Joensuu, NY Islanders, Ässät 23, 11+14=25
- Rich Peverley, Boston Bruins, JYP 27, 9+14=23
- Jason Demers, San Jose Sharks, Kärpät 30, 5+16=21
- Frans Nielsen, NY Islanders, Lukko 25, 4+20=24
- Jussi Jokinen, Carolina Hurricanes, Kärpät 19, 7+14=21
- Kyle Turris, Ottawa Senators, Kärpät 21, 7+12=19
- Lauri Korpikoski, Phoenix Coyotes TPS 11, 6+11=17
- Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks, Tappara 18, 7+10=17
- Valtteri Filppula, Detroit Red Wings, Jokerit 16, 6+9=15
- Lars Eller, Montreal Canadiens, JYP 14, 5+10=15
- Kris Russell, St. Louis Blues, TPS 15, 2+12=14
- Philip Larsen, Dallas Stars, Lukko 25, 5+10=15
- Lennart Petrell, Edmonton Oilers, HIFK 25, 11+0=10
- Mikko Koivu, Minnesota Wild, TPS 10, 5+5=10
- Craig Smith, Nashville Predators, KalPa 8, 4+4=8
- Antti Miettinen, Winnipeg Jets, HPK 14, 4+4=8
- Mathieu Perreault, Washington Capitals HIFK 7, 1+6=7
- Maxime Talbot, Philadelphia Flyers, Ilves 12, 3+3=6
- Kevin Shattenkirk, St. Louis Blues, TPS 10, 2+4=6
- Stéphane Robidas, Dallas Stars, HIFK 15, 2+3=5
- Daniel Paille, Boston Bruins, Ilves 8, 2+4=6
- Derek Stepan, NY Rangers, KalPa 12, 2+2=4
- Justin Braun, San Jose Sharks, Tappara 6, 0+3=3
- Alec Martinez, LA Kings, TPS 11, 1+1=2
- Sean Bergenheim, Florida Panthers, HIFK 2, 1+0=1
- Jamie McBain, Carolina Hurricanes, Pelicans 7, 0+1=1
- Cory Emmerton, Detroit Red Wings, SaiPa 1, 0+0=0
- Anders Lindbäck, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ilves 13, 93,0
- Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg Jets, Pelicans 6, 91,2
- Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks, Pelicans 10, 90,5
*During the 04-05 Lockout, John Madden (NJ Devils, by that time) signed with the HIFK. Being in rough off-season shape, Madden realized that he wasn't able to dominate in the league and decided to jet after only three games with the HIFK.
Sources: SM-Liiga.fi, Helsingin Sanomat, Ilta-lehti