The Swedish Olympic team has gotten some tough bounces this season, mostly by way of injury.
Such an injury knocked Alex Steen out while he was still a goal-scoring titan, and since his return to action in mid-January, after missing almost a month, he went from scoring 24 in his first 35 to three in his last nine. Meanwhile, Johan Franzen is out of the competition, replaced by Detroit teammate Gustav Nyquist, who's about as capable a replacement as one might find. Loui Eriksson made the team, but he hasn't been the same since John Scott cheap-shotted the hell out of him and put him on the shelf with a concussion for more than a month; in 11 games since, he has just four points. Now comes the news that Henrik Sedin, who's going to miss Vancouver's final two games before the Olympic break, will also have to pull out as well.
But another thing that might hold the team back is the fact that they're being a bunch of big ol' crybabies about Carl Soderberg, who “can't join” the Swedish Olympic team regardless of how many guys go down with injury. Not that Soderberg is exactly a huge difference-maker in the NHL right now, but he's certainly one of the best forwards that would have been eligible for the team.
You might remember the reason he wasn't picked for Sochi. Last season he tried to join the Boston Bruins last spring after his Swedish Hockey League team was bounced from the playoffs. The Swedish Ice Hockey Association did not want to allow him to do so because he had already committed to representing his country in the World Championships. The problem was eventually resolved — Soderberg played six regular-season games with the Bruins and then two more in the playoffs — but the Swedes also essentially swore revenge.
Sweden coach Pär Mårts told the newspaper SportExpressen that he considered what Soderberg did, by accepting the call from an elite team in the best hockey league in the world, was not “the right thing, so to speak.”
“He has not done this properly and therefore he will be disqualified. It's not the union's decision but my own,” Mårts said. “He has not shown up on the World [Championship] level, and I think you should do [that].”
You can, to be fair, see where the Swedes would be upset. They were hosting the tournament on which Soderberg bailed, after having shredded the SEL for 31 goals and 60 points in 54 games, and he had apparently already made the commitment. However, Mårts also made room to note that he doesn't hold a grudge here, and that other offensive talents like Johan Larsson, Elias Lindholm, and Linus Omark were better offensive choices anyway, which is why he wasn't on the Swedish short list of some 64 players.
“We have no aggression towards each other, I wished him good luck,” Mårts added lyingly. “There is nothing personal in this, absolutely not.”
And so we come to this: The Swedes have already replaced one top-shelf talent from their forward roster already (the aforementioned Franzen-for-Nyquist change) and were forced to do it again Friday with Henrik Sedin, swapping in Marcus Johansson of the Capitals instead.
But the problem with leaving Soderberg off is that he is one of his country's elite forwards, and to not bring him to Sochi is to intentionally hurt the team's chances of succeeding.
The simple fact is this: There are 33 Swedish forwards who have played a game in the NHL this season. Of the 14 forwards they originally elected to take to Sochi, 13 come from the NHL (the other, Jimmie Ericsson of Skellefteå, has 13 goals and 25 points in 41 games this season). Meanwhile, Soderberg is 11th in points per game among Swedish NHL forwards, despite being 20th in time on ice per game. His usage is certainly softer than, say, Eriksson's, but he's a positive possession player starting far fewer shifts in the offensive zone than the teammate Tre Kronor is bringing along. In fact, among Swedish-born forwards, Soderberg's corsi share is 14th in the league.
By any reasonable metric, then, we can say with some degree of certainty that Soderberg is worthy of making this team ahead of some others who did instead (let's say their names rhyme with, oh I don't know, Pakob Bifergerg and Barl Smagelin and Glimmy Stericsson) and dozens more who got consideration. Linus Omark. Indeed. Not that Soderberg is going to singlehandedly win gold for Sweden, but if you're playing the absolute best in the world, then you probably want to bring every weapon you've got, rather than leaving one in a drawer at home because you just didn't feel like bringing it.
Where were the disqualifications for all the other Swedish players who didn't go over to the World Championships last season? Did they at least get a stern talking-to from Mårts for not doing “the right thing.” It's ludicrous.
For all the national uproar in the U.S. When Bobby Ryan laughably got left off the team for being a “sleepy skater” and all that kind of idiotic nonsense, the coach of a national team flatly saying, “We're not bringing him because we don't like him, but let's bring this 33-year-old guy who's never played a second outside Sweden,” is about a million times worse. Especially because Sweden, by the way, still won the damn thing walking away, when they had Calle Jarnkrok on the team, and Jhonas Enroth between the pipes.
This is the kind of thing you can screw around with in other international competitions, if you really want to. Carry all the grudges you want into the World Championships or World Juniors. But this is the Olympics, played once every four years and the most important tournament in the entire sport. If you're not at your best, you're not going to win. Period (except against Slovenia because they're terrible).
Eriksson said it best when discussing the issue: “That's something they have to discuss and try to fix.” No kidding. Sweden's not much of a gold hopeful to begin with, but certainly has the ability to medal. Having one extra guy who can produce against NHL talent — and maybe one who was playing every game on international ice as recently as 11 months ago — might make a little bit of a difference.