The 2011 NHL Draft capped off what was an enjoyable hockey season in Finland. After watching the national team defeat arch-rival Sweden handily in the IIHF World Championship tournament, Finnish hockey fans had the pleasure of seeing five Finnish players selected in the first two rounds of the draft for only the second time in history. In the domestic SM-Liiga, Helsinki-based HIFK, traditionally one of the stronger teams in the league, captured the Kanada Cup by defeating an upstart Espoo Blues club that had finished night in the regular season but reached the playoff finals.
The 2008-09 SM-Liiga will have a very different look as once again some top players have headed for greener pastures elsewhere. While that may not help the quality of play, it should lead to more opportunities for younger players who might otherwise have to wait to play key roles. The season will have added excitement as last year’s championship finalists – Oulun Karpat and Espoo Blues – will also be competing in the inaugural Champions Hockey League in Europe. In addition to the two Finnish finalists, ten other European clubs will compete for the title.
With regards to prospects, the NHL changed its approach to Europeans in the collective bargaining agreement of 2005. Clubs now are supposed to have just two years from the time a European player is drafted to sign that player to a contract. Rather than speculating on teenagers in hopes that they could develop over a longer period of time, clubs now select only the top tier. And they more often target established players and sign them to free-agent contracts. The lack of an IIHF agreement has thrown a wrench into the system, however.