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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Anders Hedberg

Pioneer in North American hockey discusses current state of Jets, Rangers

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Anders Hedberg, who played 11 seasons in North America, four for the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association and seven for the New York Rangers.

Anders Hedberg believes one of his hockey dreams has come true, that a player can be embraced in the NHL no matter where he's from.

Born in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, the forward was a true pioneer when he, forward Ulf Nilsson and defenseman Lars-Erik Sjoberg left Sweden to join the Jets in 1974. They were among the first European players to make a major impact in North America, helping Winnipeg win World Hockey Association championships in 1976 and 1978.

"To be a player has nothing to do with nationality anymore," Hedberg said from his home in Stockholm, Sweden. "It has to do with personality and talent, which when we arrived wasn't the case. The NHL, and the WHA at that time, was basically made up with Canadians. Very few Americans even at the time. So me and Ulf were incredibly privileged because we played with Bobby Hull and it worked for all of us.

"Bobby told us, 'Just play. You don't have to slash back or hit back or fight. Just skate and play and think.' It's the way he wanted it. So to compare us to today's young players coming in, that's impossible. Today it doesn't make any difference if you come from Moose Jaw or Helsinki or Stockholm. If you can play, you can play."

In his four WHA seasons, the 69-year-old had 458 points (236 goals, 222 assists) in 286 games. He scored 51 goals in the first 49 games of 1976-77, when he finished with 70 goals in 68 games.

Hedberg and Nilsson jumped to the NHL to play for the Rangers in 1978, and Hedberg had 397 points (172 goals, 225 assists) in 465 NHL games from 1978-79 to 1984-85.

Hedberg won the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and dedication to hockey in his final NHL season and has been inducted into the Swedish Hockey Hall of Fame, the International Ice Hockey Federation Hall of Fame and the Winnipeg Jets Hall of Fame.

After he retired as a player, he worked as an assistant to then-New York Rangers general manager Craig Patrick, then worked in scouting and player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1991-99. After two seasons as GM of Sweden's national team he worked as director of player personnel for the Ottawa Senators from 2002-07, then returned to the Rangers as director of European scouting, a position he held until retiring in 2015.

Here are Five Questions with … Anders Hedberg:

 

How much are you missing hockey and the NHL while leagues around the world are paused because of concerns surrounding the coronavirus?

"I have always loved hockey, always will. Yes, I'm absolutely missing it. Now most of the games I'm catching on television; I go to maybe 10, 20 live games a season, that's all. But I'm watching NHL and the Swedish leagues and the national teams and (IIHF) World Championship and NHL playoffs, as they should have been starting up here, but nothing yet. The good thing is that today you can watch every game on television. I can stream it and I don't have to be up in the middle of the night. I normally watch every morning having breakfast."

 

You said you still keep a keen eye on the NHL, so what do you think of the state of your former teams? Let's start with the Jets.

"When their three right-side defensemen all left the team (Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Dustin Byfuglien), all of them quality defensemen with different dimensions, I thought this was not the year the Winnipeg Jets would advance very far. But anytime you have a player of the quality of Mark Scheifele, that gives you a chance, and they have some very talented other players. But to win the Stanley Cup I think there's going to have to be somebody (else acquired) on the back end or a surprise within the system. Their last signing, the big defenseman Dylan Samberg, maybe there's not a lot of (offensive) production in him but I like his background, that he's from just south of the (Canada-United States) border, which means he doesn't mind snow and winter, which I think is an advantage. The Byfuglien situation, that needed to be resolved for many different reasons. And Ville Heinola (No. 20 pick, 2019 NHL Draft), the young Finnish defenseman, he went back to Finland and didn't have an unbelievable season, just an OK season, which indicated to me that they might have kept him too long in Winnipeg. Maybe it will be his time now but you have to be patient. My old mentor and friend, (sports agent) Don Baizley, always said it's better to arrive a little bit too late than too early."

 

What do you think is the state of the Rangers?

"Interesting rebuilding experiment going on. It's two years ago now since they basically said, 'OK, we won't win the Stanley Cup with this so we're going to retool.' So they traded away much of what they had to try to pick up very high draft choices. They were lucky last year, winning the (NHL Draft) Lottery to get the second pick (Kaapo Kakko) and then they signed (Artemi) Panarin and (with) Mika Zibanejad it looks like they fit together, especially on the power play, with production and chemistry there from both of them. And they have stockpiled quite a bit of talent. It's going to be very interesting and they probably have a window of two years to prove their drafting and trades will pan out. I think they might find it difficult in the next two years, too young and too inexperienced, but we will see."

 

Do you have a favorite game you played?

"Not really sure of that but I do think of when we (the Jets) beat the Soviet national team 5-3 (in Winnipeg on Jan. 5, 1978). If that game had been on 'Hockey Night in Canada,' it would have made a huge impact on Canadian hockey, more than it did. It would have been talked about all across Canada a lot more than it was, but it was just a local (broadcast) game. I don't know if that was our best game ever but we had a hell of a team in Winnipeg and we beat the Russians when almost nobody else did. The reason we beat them was we had played them on the big ice and lost three games to them but were never really outplayed, and then back on smaller ice we were a North American team even with lots of Europeans, and we were good enough to beat them, quite honestly. We hear a lot about the Montreal Canadiens and their 3-3 (tie) with the Russians on New Year's Eve (1979), a classic game. But let me tell you, Ulf and I went to New York to play with the Rangers against the Canadiens. We had a better team in Winnipeg than we had in New York. You couldn't say that at the time, but it's the truth."

 

As a player, who were your favorite teammates?

"Ulf, he has to be No. 1 of course. Then one who represented all the good things with hockey in terms of team, always the team before the individual, always the result before the my own production, all the good things of keeping values in place, was Bill Lesuk with the Jets. And I have to mention the run in New York that brought us to the Stanley Cup Final in 1979. We beat the Islanders in the semifinals, right before they won their Cups, and in the Final that year he was injured and really couldn't play his best, was our goaltender John Davidson. He was another teammate who understood the values of what's more important, more than wins and losses in many ways. Ulf, Bill, John, they are the kind of glue that makes teams become real teams, which is so important in hockey."

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