Yes, the Ottawa Senators have heard from the Swedish hockey federation, requesting Mika Zibanejad’s presence at a certain world junior tournament in Russia.
But, no, the Senators are still not inclined to let Ziba go.
“I have talked to the federation in Sweden and suggested we would talk again,” Murray said, in an email to the Citizen Tuesday evening. “Our interest is for Mika and his development and we think he is best served here.
“He has had a tough adjustment (to the AHL) and a month away will be like starting over upon his return. We will talk further but as of now he will stay here.”
Now, I really wish I was covering the world juniors in Ufa, Russia later this month, if only to get into the scrums involving Swedish head coach Roger Ronnberg. What a quote he delivered across the pond, on the Senators decision to keep last year’s Swedish hero, Zibanejad, in AHL Binghamton during the tournament.
The Swedes did not appreciate news that Ufa would be a Ziba-free zone. In fact, Peter Forsberg (not that one), vice-president of the Swedish Hockey Federation, contacted Murray and told SportExpressen.se that has “hope” that Murray might relent and allow Zibanejad to play for Sweden.
Not likely, says Murray.
As you no doubt heard or read, the Swedish outrage started with coach Ronnberg.
“It’s pretty damn sad to me that Canadians in Ottawa’s management will sit and decide about the Swedish junior national team,” Ronnberg said. “Europeans always have to be on our backs for them over there and that they can dictate and decide about these tournaments.
“They are pretty stubborn. It’s a game of power against Europe, this.”
On our backs for them?
Wow. I wish Ronnberg would tell us how he really feels.
This sort of raw emotion is usually reserved for the heated moments following a difficult loss in a big game. But then, losing Zibanejad from the roster IS a big loss for the defending champs from Sweden. In six tournament world junior games last year, Zibanejad produced four goals and eight points, including the overtime ‘golden goal’ in the championship final.
The Swedes are already missing two of their best defencemen to injury – Jonas Brodin, the Minnesota Wild prospect, and Oscar Klefbom, a first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers and a world junior all-star in 2012.
Under the circumstances, losing a healthy Zibanejad because the Senators want him to continue his small ice/pro league development in Binghamton, put the Swedes over the top. This isn’t your run of the mill world junior session, remember. This is a tournament marked by an NHL lockout, meaning a powerhouse hockey nation like Canada will have a wealth of talent available it wouldn’t have had if the NHL were playing games.
That brings us to the Oilers decision to (apparently) free up Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for junior duty – but only if RNH is medically cleared to play for Canada. Nugent-Hopkins is currently in Edmonton getting his shoulder treated, and a decision on his status won’t be made until next week. It could be the NHL club is also waiting to see if the lockout is nearing an end, in which case RNH could be back in Oilers colours.
Like Zibanejad, Nugent-Hopkins has been spending the lockout in the AHL (RNH is with Oklahoma City), and that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike Zibajenad, Nugent-Hopkins has never played in the world junior tournament.
Unlike Zibanejad, Nugent-Hopkins is an established NHL player, exploding into the pros with 52 points in 62 games in 2011-12, until he injured his shoulder, which required surgery. In the end, RNH was a runner-up for the Calder Trophy and probably would have won the rookie award if he hadn’t missed 20 games.
The Oilers know what they have in Nugent-Hopkins. A first overall draft choice in 2011, RNH is the Oilers’ future top line centre, unless injuries hold him back. While a year in the AHL won’t hurt Nugent-Hopkins’ development, neither will a few weeks in Russia, relishing his first world junior event.
Zibanejad’s story is radically different. In fact, it’s safe to say the Senators have had serious concerns about Ziba’s development. Selected sixth overall by Ottawa in the same 2011 draft, Zibanejad is also a centre, but was shifted to the wing this fall.
While Nugent-Hopkins blossomed in the NHL, Zibanejad will need time — he played just nine NHL games as an 18-year-old rookie, producing just one assist, and was sent back to Djurgardens for development. The team had a dreadful season, Zibanejad got into some bad playing habits, according to those who watched the team, and he was likely destined for a full year of develpment in the AHL, regardless of whether a Collective Bargaining Agreement could be reached.
Would it hurt him to go back to the big ice, and junior competition, for a month or so? Maybe not. But unlike RNH, he’s been there, done that.
If Zibanejad were progressing along the same track as Nugent-Hopkins, the Senators wouldn’t have a care in the world about sending Ziba to Ufa. But Zibanejad – with one goal, and six assists in 16 AHL games – is not on that track. He has a lot to figure out about the North American game.
Gutsy call by the Senators, they have a batch of Swedes in their system and don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them.