European scoring champs could be X factor down stretch for NHL teams
By Allan Muir
You could forgive Boston's fans for their jaded response to word that Swedish scoring sensation Carl Soderberg is interested in joining the Bruins for the stretch run. After all, they've heard this song before.
Soderberg was acquired by the B's in a 2007 swap that sent former first-rounder Hannu Toivonen to St. Louis. It was a nothing deal at the time, one team sending a devalued asset to another, both hoping that a change of scenery would revive flagging careers.
Toivonen played 23 games with the Blues as a backup in 2007-08 before being relegated to the minors. And Soderberg? He played games of a different kind, hinting on multiple occasions that he'd come to Boston for training camp, only to change his mind and stay overseas.
It was hard to figure him out. There were suggestions from scouts that he lacked confidence in his ability to compete at the NHL level. Others thought he was a kid who simply wasn't convinced that he'd be any happier here than he was in Sweden.
It was a long-running exercise in frustration for the Bruins, but through it all, the team's management remained committed to bringing him over.
It's easy to see why. The 27-year-old has size (6'-3", 207 pounds) and has always played a strong, two-way game. But after years as a useful cog, he finally broke through this season as a superstar in the Swedish league. He led the SEL in goals with 31 and finished second with 60 points.
That might explain the sudden boost in confidence.
Soderberg is a natural center, but the Bruins see him as an ideal fit on the wing for the team's struggling third line. He's also sure to get a look on a power play that's been the team's weakest link for three years running. Addressing those two concerns would place the B's as the clear front-runner in the East.
Best of all, he could be an impact addition without costing the Bruins an asset in the trade market. The only price to pay now is a little more patience. GM Peter Chiarelli has confirmed that he is close to a deal that will bring Soderberg over when his Swedish team, Linkoping, is eliminated from the SEL playoffs, which start this week. Soderberg still has a contract there, which means he'll have to be bought out, but cash is a lot easier to part with than players.
Boston's not the only team that could see a Euro-upgrade in the near future. The Oilers learned last week that Swiss league scoring champ Linus Omark was interested in returning to the NHL once his season with EV Zug comes to an end.
A highly skilled, undersized offensive-minded forward might be the only thing the struggling Oilers don't need right now. But that doesn't mean the return of the 1997 fourth-rounder wouldn't be welcomed.
For Edmonton, the key is getting him in the lineup as soon as possible. Ideally, Zug collapses in the playoffs and Omark gets in a few showcase games in copper and blue before the April 3 trade deadline. If he displays some spark, he could fetch a third- or fourth-round pick in return. Maybe more if the market is as pinched for talent as it looks like it will be.
You'd have to think the Red Wings would be interested. Omark plays the puck possession game that they like. And his linemates for the first half of the Swiss season were Henrik Zetterberg and Damien Brunner. The trio showed a natural chemistry that suggests Omark could slip into the lineup and make a quick adjustment to the challenges of the NHL. Nashville, a team that has been scouring the scrap heap looking for anyone who could spark their historically inept offense, would also be expected to make a call.
Omark has his flaws, of course. He has to be used in a top-six role to be effective. His play away from the puck was an issue during his first stroll through the NHL, and the fact that he chose the Swiss league over the more defensive-minded Swedish circuit means the question is still unanswered. And at 5'-10", 174, he's hardly built for the rigors of playoff hockey.
Still, he has an enviable flair around the net, and a knack for scoring when it matters most. Just ask Dan Ellis or Marco Burhrer for a reference. It's worth noting that both Soderberg and Omark are covered by the Ryan O'Reilly rule. Their rights are owned by an NHL team, but because they aren't currently under contract, they can come to North America, sign a deal and join a team without having to clear waivers.