These days, the NHL isn’t the only option for top pro hockey players.
With the increasing viability and popularity of leagues in Russia, Sweden, Finland and elsewhere, European players often choose to play at home rather than take a fringe roster spot on an American or Canadian team.
Peter Forsberg, a Swedish former league MVP and two-time Stanley Cup winner, brought the trend into the national conversation Monday with his decision to stay with MODO Hockey of the Swedish Elitserien, shunning an offer from the Vancouver Canucks.
Forsberg’s decision to stay was primarily medical — he wasn’t sure if he could hold up to a full NHL season. Countryman and former NHL star Markus Naslund is rumored to also have an interest in playing for MODO.
Longtime Bruins forward P.J. Axelsson chose to return to his former Swedish club team, Frolunda, this offseason after 11 seasons with the B’s. He elected to go home instead of pursuing NHL free agency.
Multiple former NHL players have moved over to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, while many young players have chosen to develop in European leagues instead of coming over to North America to play in junior hockey.
Tuukka Rask, the Bruins’ Finnish rookie goalie, played for Tampere in Finland before coming over to the minor-league AHL.
“For a lot of guys, it’s good to play against older players in the European leagues instead of coming here to play in juniors,” he said. “It helps your development to play against guys at their peak.
“The leagues are really popular. The Finnish league is probably a step behind Sweden and Russia, but all are really strong and well-supported.”
For the past two seasons, the NHL has opened the season with exhibitions and regular season games in Europe — including games between NHL teams and European teams. The Detroit Red Wings beat Farjestad of Sweden 6-2 in September.