In what could be a trend-setting move among NHL teams, the Boston Bruins
recently announced a partnership with SM-Liiga (Finnish elite league) team JYP Jyvaskyla. Under the terms of the partnership, the two organizations will be able to transfer contracted players on loan to each other. The players from one team will have open access to train with the other club and have access to its facilities and staff. The teams' coaching and scouting staffs also will be able to exchange tactics and scouting information throughout the season and offseason.
In its most practical sense, the biggest advantage of the partnership is the potential for player exchange. The agreement provides the Bruins with an alternative to sending affiliated players to the American Hockey League, either prospects or veterans who pass through waivers. In turn, the arrangement will give JYP access to players who can help the club. There also is the potential for the agreement to be a boon to the JYP junior teams (like most every team in Europe, JYP has its own feeder system), and for it to give the Bruins a leg up in identifying players it may wish to draft or sign down the road.
"It's a working agreement where there's an exchange of resources," Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney
told the Boston Globe. "If you want to send a guy to the East Coast (ECHL) or to Providence (AHL), or if you want to utilize their training in the summer and let a kid work on his skill -- anything. It's an open exchange. There's nothing concrete in place."
JYP was a good fit for the Bruins because there already was an overlap of sorts between the clubs. Jukka Holtari, who serves as JYP's director of player personnel, has worked as a European scout for the Bruins since the 2007-08 season. The new agreement simply widens the channels of communication and opens broader possibilities.
The only firm boundaries of the exchange, of course, are the NHL's rules about in-season player transfers (waiver and re-entry rules apply on the same basis as they would if a player were assigned to the AHL), and the practicalities of sending players overseas. Other NHL teams have loaned affiliated players to clubs in Europe in recent years. In most cases, the loans have involved European prospects who have underachieved at the North American minor-league level, such as the Detroit Red Wings
sending enigmatic prospect Dick Axelsson
to Farjestads in Sweden. Or it has involved Russian players who chafed about accepting minor-league assignments or had proven to not yet be NHL-ready, such as when the Columbus Blue Jackets
loaned top prospect Nikita Filatov
to the KHL's CSKA Moscow last November.
The Boston-JYP agreement has the potential to go even further than waived NHL vets and minor leaguers going to Europe, if the clubs so desire. For example, suppose the Bruins were to sign a couple of young European draftees to entry-level contracts. Once under Bruins contract, JYP could be the youngsters' next destination until the players are deemed ready to come to North America. The partnership agreement could be a way to keep such prospects under one roof, rather than scattered among different European club teams, and the Bruins could keep closer tabs on how the players are progressing and being coached because of the information and coaching exchanges. Meanwhile, it could upgrade the pipeline of talent to JYP without the tiny-market Finnish team having to expend more resources to recruit such players.
Contrary to rumors that arose in the days immediately following the announcement of the Bruins-JYP agreement, the NHL's agreement with the Canadian Hockey League remains in place, meaning 18- and 19-year-old players drafted out of the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League who don't make their respective NHL teams' rosters would have to be returned to their junior club. For example, if Tyler Seguin
(the second pick of the 2010 Entry Draft) were to fail to earn an NHL roster spot with the Bruins, he would return to the OHL's Plymouth Whalers and couldn't be sent to JYP as a way to circumvent the AHL age-eligibility rules for CHL players.
The Bruins' agreement with JYP, while innovative, is not completely unprecedented. For a time, the Detroit Red Wings
had a loose working relationship with the Malmo Red Hawks in Sweden, and former Detroit assistant coach Barry Smith
concurrently served as Malmo's coach. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Pittsburgh Penguins
entered into a sponsorship agreement with CSKA Moscow (the former Red Army team) before the 1993-94 season. For a time, the team unofficially was renamed the Moscow Penguins. Neither arrangement proved especially successful, especially the latter. However, if the Bruins' partnership with JYP takes off, other NHL teams could follow suit in the near future. The time and circumstances finally seem right.