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Why I Think The Dread Pirate Soderberg Is Coming To Boston

Phunwin is prepared to call the SIHF's bluff, and thinks the NHL will do the same. The Dread Pirate, the Yeti, the any other name, he'll be a Boston Bruin soon.

Carl Soderberg wearing a Team Sweden sweater.  "What are things I don't expect to see, Alex?"
Carl Soderberg wearing a Team Sweden sweater. "What are things I don't expect to see, Alex?"

So the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation has proclaimed that they will not sign off on Carl Soderberg's transfer to the Bruins. In a season that's featured head injuries to two of Boston's three best skaters, and the bizarre Jarome Iginla saga, did you expect less? The Bruins don't get to have nice things.

Of course, Patrice Bergeron will be back soon, and Brad Marchand's concussion apparently falls into the mild category, and the Bruins were better off getting Jaromir Jagr than Iginla. We don't need your pity. Oh, and Soderberg's going to come anyway.

You heard me. Well, read me, anyway. Within a week or two, I expect the jolly roger to be flying in Boston Harbor, and carrying with it the Dread Pirate Soderberg himself.

Let's look at the facts.

1. His Swedish club, Linkoping, has agreed to a transfer. Presumably, the Bruins have bought out the remainder of his contract.

2. He has signed a contract with the Bruins.

3. Soderberg and USA Hockey have signed his transfer card.

The only roadblock is the SIHF refusing to sign the transfer card. This, apparently, caught almost everyone by surprise. To wit:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Can't answer the Soderberg/process questions coming in. Obviously, this decision surprised everyone. More to follow.</p>&mdash; Kirk Luedeke (@kluedeke29) <a href="">April 11, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Sweden, as has been said, wants Soderberg on their national team for the World Championships. Soderberg has countered with a resounding "ingen".

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Soderberg has also made it clear to Swedish coach Pär Mårts. that he will NOT play in the World Championships. <a href="">#TakeThat</a></p>&mdash; Dominic Tiano (@dominictiano) <a href="">April 12, 2013</a></blockquote>
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So, the ball is in the NHL's court now...or, I suppose, the puck is in their end. Will they stamp Soderberg's transfer card, or will they abide by the SIHF's decision and refuse to allow Soderberg to play for Boston until after the World Championships are complete? This would, functionally, mean he could not join the club until after May 19, when the tournament ends. Assuming a few days for travel and acclimation, let's assume that's May 24. The first round of the NHL playoffs starts April 30. Thus, the earliest Soderberg could join the team would probably be the conference finals. If the Bruins have gotten that far, I doubt they'll want to tinker with their lineup by inserting a guy who's played exactly zero games in the NHL.

The Bruins have done everything by the book. They worked out an agreement with Linkopings, they signed a contract, they worked with USA Hockey, and they were kind enough to request the SIHF's permission to have Soderberg released to come to the NHL. It is difficult for me to see the NHL refusing the back the Bruins in this situation.

There is no transfer agreement in place between the NHL and the SIHF (not yet, anyway; after this fiasco, there will surely be one), thus the IIHF rules for transfers apply. The SIHF is, I assume, relying on rule 11: Release of a Player for National Team Games. Here are the pertinent parts:

2. Any club that has registered a player who is eligible under IIHF Bylaws to play for the national team of a member national association must, in the event that he is selected for one of its representative teams, release him to the member national association for which team he is eligible to play, irrespective of age and in accordance with the IIHF International Transfer Regulations, which in this respect includes all players whether transferred or not.
6. Any player registered with a club is obliged to respond affirmatively when called
upon by the selecting national association to play for one of its representative

OK, so the Swedes have an argument: they want him for the national team, and with his SEL season done, he's eligible for national team duty. Except that he already has a contract with Boston, and his club team has signed off. At a minimum, their opposition is in direct contravention of rule 2.2c:

The former member national association may only refuse to sign the transfer card if:

1) the player is a signed professional player currently under a professional player contract (refer to section II article 4 for appeal procedures;

2) the player wishing to transfer has not fulfilled his contractual obligations to his former club
(all contractual obligations other than those involving signed professional player contracts) (refer to section I article 2.4 and following for appeal procedures);

3) the player has not fulfilled financial commitments to his former club such as debts or has not returned the club's equipment (refer to section I article 2.4 and following for appeal procedures);

4) a material reason between the two clubs regarding the player transfer exists other than issues concerning compensation (an example of a material reason is the existence of a confirmed suspension or pending disciplinary proceeding by either the IIHF or by the player’s member national association when such suspension is recognized by the IIHF) (refer to section I article 2.4 and following for appeal procedures).

The SIHF is not refusing to sign the transfer card for any of the listed reasons. They're refusing to sign it because Soderberg would not be released for the World Championships if he went to Boston. Does that constitute a "material reason"? I tend to doubt it; the NHL only releases players for international duty after their season is over, and Soderberg now has an NHL contract. What's more, Soderberg has refused to play for the national team. While that may appear to be a contravention of rule 11.6, I'm not sure how that's enforceable.

It is, in my mind, a questionable dispute, at best, by the SIHF. If they can't work this out, the IIHF would arbitrate. However, I don't expect it's going to get that far.

The NHL is the #1 hockey league in the world, and they know it. They may not be able to figure out how to make a dime in Phoenix, but Gary Bettman and his team know how to put down an insurrection from a rival. Remember all the fuss about the KHL poaching NHL players and maybe keeping some big time stars in Russia? Didn't happen. I'd be very surprised if the NHL doesn't start to work behind the scenes to get the SIHF to back down and stamp Soderberg's transfer card. They've probably been doing just that.

"But the World Championships! That's a big deal, and they're in Stockholm", says the strawman I've conveniently created from thin air. Sure, they are. But what was more valuable to Sweden's reputation as a hockey powerhouse: Niklas Lidstrom's international career, or his NHL career? It's no contest; any reasonable hockey fan would put Lidstrom among the five best defensemen in hockey history, but they probably couldn't tell you how many Olympic medals he has without consulting Wikipedia (I sure can't). Ultimately, the best players go on to the NHL. It's no coincidence that more and more Russians are playing junior hockey in Canada and the US these days. Sweden, like all countries that fancy themselves hockey powers, has an interest in letting that happen.

Soderberg's agent says that he expects to hear from the NHL by 5 pm today as to whether they will abide by the SIHF's decision, or whether they will contest it. If the NHL contests it, I expect that the SIHF will fold quickly. Perhaps it will take some ego massaging, and maybe some cash from Jeremy Jacobs. (Whatever, he's got the money; he can use what he saved in not giving Soderberg a market-price contract.) Their case under the IIHF rules is a questionable one, and in any event, they're drawing a line in the sand over a player who doesn't want to be there anyway.

When your best case scenario involves alienating a well-regarded player and a league you do a ton of business with, for no gain whatsoever, it's usually a good idea to rethink your plan of action. They've bluffed. Soderberg called. If the NHL does too, it's time to fold.

To the rest of the NHL, I say this:

Princess Bride,The ( The Dread Pirate Roberts Is Here For Your Soul [ Marriage Scene] ) (via angelofcaine69)