Now that the IIHF World Championships are complete, the European offseason has begun. Several top teams in Sweden's Elitserien already have seen major changes to their rosters. Among the league's title-contending clubs, the lineup for defending champion Brynas IF Gavle will look significantly different next season, as will that of playoff semifinalist AIK Stockholm. Meanwhile, regular-season first-place finisher Lulea HF has made a surprise addition to bolster its offensive attack.
Brynas nucleus breaking up
It often has been said that the only thing tougher than winning a championship is defending it the next season. If Brynas is to repeat as Swedish league champion next season, the club will have to do it without the services of two of its top three young forwards, its starting goaltender and two of its starting defensemen.
After winning the league's MVP award in the regular season and the postseason, Jakob Silfverberg joined the Ottawa Senators for the latter stages of its Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series with the New York Rangers. Silfverberg will be an NHL rookie next season. It will be extremely difficult for Brynas to make up for the loss of his explosive right-handed shot and extra gear when he sees open ice, which produced 54 points in 49 regular-season games and a single-year record 13 playoff goals.
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Apart from Silfverberg, Brynas also has learned that forward Johan Larsson will not be back next season. Larsson, 20, ranked third on the team in scoring during the regular season with 36 points, as well as producing at a point-per-game for the gold medal-winning Sweden team at the 2012 World Junior Championships. In the Elitserien playoffs, he had nine points in 16 games.
A 2010 second-round draft pick (No. 56) of the Minnesota Wild, Larsson signed an entry-level contract with Minnesota on May 19. He likely will play next season in the American Hockey League with the Houston Aeros, although there is a possibility that he could be loaned back to Brynas, as the Senators did with Silfverberg this season.
Coming off a stellar playoff run and strong regular season, starting goaltender Niklas Svedberg signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins earlier this week. The 22-year-old posted a 1.70 goals against average and .947 save percentage during the playoffs. Although Svedberg currently is blocked in Boston by Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, he could work his way into the NHL picture -- at least in a backup role -- if he has a strong AHL season with the Providence Bruins in 2012-13.
Defenseman Mattias Ekholm spent most of the season with Brynas on loan from the Nashville Predators after playing a pair of NHL games early in the season. The 20-year-old offensive-minded defenseman chipped in nine goals in the regular season and then had nine points and a plus-7 rating in the playoffs. He plans to return to North America for the 2012-13 season.
Ekholm's fellow blueliner Niclas Andersen, 24, also will not be returning to Gavle next season. After four seasons with the club, he has elected to sign elsewhere for next season. There have been reports of interest in the defensive defenseman from a pair of KHL teams, but his final destination has not been determined.
On the flip side, Brynas likely will be able to retain star forward Calle Jarnkrok for one more season. Although the Detroit Red Wings reportedly are close to signing their 2010 second-round draft pick before their hold on his rights expire June 1, he appears unlikely to crack the Red Wings' NHL roster next season. The more likely course of action will be for Jarnkrok to join Detroit for rookie camp and then return to Gavle on loan for next season.
Brynas also will keep former NHL goaltender Johan Holmqvist next season. The 34-year-old veteran split time with Svedberg during the regular season but sat on the bench during the playoffs. The club also has highly regarded prospect Oskar Dansk (No. 2 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of European goalies for the 2012 NHL Draft) in the pipeline.
Brynas also will be getting a Swedish player coming back from North America. The club has signed former Nashville right wing Andreas Thuresson to a two-year contract. Thuresson has spent most of the last five seasons at the AHL level, but played 25 NHL games over parts of two seasons. He had 13 goals and 21 points for the AHL's Connecticut Whale in 2011-12.
In need of leadership to help overcome the many key roster departures, Brynas has signed former Chicago Blackhawks center Jonas Nordquist to a two-year contract extension. The 30-year-old has been with the club for the past three seasons. He had 23 points in the regular season and 10 in the playoffs en route to Brynas winning the Le Mat Trophy this season.
AIK copes with loss of Rosen and Fasth
In a series of events that played out much like a sporting reality show, Elitserien leading scorer Robert Rosen has broken the last year of his two-year contract with AIK Stockholm to re-join the Vaxjo Lakers. Rosen left Vaxjo two years ago to play at the Elite League level (the team was not promoted to the top level until 2011), playing one season with Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik before signing the two-year deal with AIK.
News of Rosen's desired departure from AIK broke before the transaction was complete, and much of the negotiation became a matter of public record. Ultimately, Vaxjo bought out Rosen's contract from AIK and signed him earlier this week to a five-year contract extension.
In a statement released by the Lakers, Rosen explained his reasoning for pushing for the unusual transfer while he still had a valid contract with AIK.
"The reason I have chosen to break my contract with AIK is not that my girlfriend longed to go home [to Vaxjo]. We have both enjoyed the AIK organization, supporters and teammates in every way and have enjoyed it in Stockholm.
"The decision to move to Vaxjo is mine. My girlfriend has epilepsy and it's become more and more of a problem during the past year. It has been very tough to leave her on her own. … Ice hockey is my interest and my job by the family will almost be the most important. Both my girlfriend and I have our roots in Vaxjo and when we move home, we'll have our relatives and friends in our absolute vicinity where we can get the security and support we need. I want to thank AIK for this past season where I had the chance to develop both as a player and individual."
As part of the agreement between AIK and the Lakers, Rosen will not be allowed to play in either of Vaxjo's first two road games in Stockholm's Hovet. While the center still is certain to receive a hostile reception the first time he eventually plays on the road against AIK, the hope is to keep the security risk at a minimum.
Rosen, 25, had a disappointing playoff run for AIK this spring, despite the team's run to Game 7 of the semifinals after upsetting top-ranked Lulea in the first round. After leading the league in regular-season scoring with 60 points (21 goals, 39 assists), Rosen had just three goals and six points in the postseason. Two of the three goals came in AIK's 2-1 victory in Game 6 of the semifinals against Skelleftea, which forced a seventh and deciding game for a trip to the finals.
Far less acrimonious than Rosen's transfer to the Lakers is the impending departure of goaltending standout Viktor Fasth. The late-blooming star, who will turn 30 in August, has signed an NHL contract with the Anaheim Ducks. Fasth's sudden emergence from minor-league obscurity in 2010-11 was the spark that ignited the team's shocking run to the semifinals that season. While the team was an underdog this past season, it was not nearly as much of a surprise that Fasth once again backstopped the team to a playoff upset of the top seed.
AIK also will have to do without 25-year-old power forward Daniel Bang. After a decent regular season (eight goals, 18 points), the 6-foot-4 winger was one of the team's most effective players in the postseason, especially near the net on the power play. On May 3, he signed an entry-level contract with the Nashville Predators.
The Stockholm-based club recently extended the contract of its captain, former NHL defenseman Dick Tarnstrom, for one more season. They also signed 30-year-old defensive defenseman Daniel Josefesson to add to the club's blue-line depth for next season.
Lulea adds Klasen
During the 2011-12 regular season, Lulea HF relied heavily on its defensive play to capture first place in the standings. Offense sometimes was hard to come by for the club. As a key step toward bolstering the attack, the club has signed former Nashville left wing Linus Klasen to a deal.
Described by one NHL Western Conference scout as having "the skills of a poor man's Danny Briere," the diminutive Klasen has proven to be a highly productive scorer at both the Elitserien and AHL levels but sometimes gets overmatched defensively. Klasen, who averaged nearly a point-per game for the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL and played in four NHL games in 2010-11, spent this past season at the Allsvenskan (top minor league) with Malmö, where he had 20 goals and 50 points in 51 games.
Klasen, 26, most recently played in Elitserien in 2009-10, where he had 51 points in 51 games for a poor Sodertalje SK team. A deft puckhandler, he also is adept at hiding from the defense to emerge in the slot. His finishing touch is NHL caliber. It remains to be seen how well he will fit in Lulea's defense-first style of play. This past season, only three Lulea players reached double-digit goals. Niklas Olausson led the club in scoring with 41 points and Simon Hjalmarsson topped the squad with 19 goals.