It's been no secret that Carl Soderberg's future has been something the Bruins organisation have been looking at recently - the Swedish centre is an UFA at the end of this season and has been one of the players speculated richly about whenever the subject of Bruins' salary cap and dealings this summer have been mentioned. As a solid third-liner who's scored at around a point every other game in the NHL since finally coming to North America from Sweden in 2013, the big forward has become one of the quietly popular players on the Bruins roster with both fans and team-mates.
He's also become something of a cult-hero in Bruins fandom thanks to the "Play Like Carl" meme, spawning t-shirts and all manner of catchphrases.
But this week, reports have emerged in Europe that the Bruins could face competition for Soderberg's signature this summer from an unexpected direction...Switzerland.
According to Flavio Vigliezio of Swiss Italian-language newspaper Corriere della Ticino, Swiss NLA club and European hockey powerhouse HC Lugano have made an audacious bid to tempt Soderberg back across the Atlantic as a replacement for another former NHLer who was tempted to Switzerland direct from an NHL team, Brett McLean.
But how likely is this a bid? Is it rumour, wishful thinking or could Lugano be seriously in the running?
Firstly, the Swiss NLA certainly has the financial muscle to at least consider a bid. It's the richest league in Europe by a distance, with team wage budgets that would likely dwarf many AHL teams. It's the most-attended league in Europe, even out-stripping the KHL for attendance. Budget-wise, it's obviously still not quite near the level of the NHL, but with a roster priced at around 14 million euros ($15 million) there's definitely some financial muscle there. With European team pay-structures even more top-loaded in favour of stars than NHL rosters, no salary caps and rich sponsors who would leap at the chance to be associated with bringing a "true NHL star" to their team the Swiss could probably at least make an offer that would compare favourably to the average 3rd-liner NHL contract.
Secondly, the club involved, Lugano, has some previous form here. Currently on their roster they have former Red Wing Damien Brunner, who was lured back mid-season to the NLA last year after previously leaving it to take a shot with the Wings and then the New Jersey Devils. Soderberg hasn't previously played in Switzerland, but his NHL trajectory (play most of his 20's in his home country's top league and reject several approaches from NHL teams before eventually deciding to travel over after several pro years) is similar to that of Brunner.
Then, of course, there's the lure of lifestyle. While being an NHL star is the dream of many hockey players both in NA and Europe, the fact remains that, for your average, work-a-day NHL bottom-six player, being a hockey pro is probably less demanding, the fame and adulation from fans is greater and the lifestyle and media pressure is more relaxed in the top leagues in Europe than it is in the North American system, while the financial rewards are still very generous indeed. Such a state of affairs is why the top European leagues, particularly those in Western Europe, are often very successful in attracting NHLers who are perhaps either dissatisfied with their roles or don't see their NHL careers progressing beyond a certain level. It's also the reason many European players choose to return after giving North America a try for a while.
On the face of it, Soderberg has no reason to leave Boston...he's on a $1-million-a-year contract that will likely rise this summer by some level, has a fairly settled role as a third-line forward and, although he hasn't been putting up the gaudy numbers he did in Sweden and potentially would in Switzerland, his production has been decent enough.
But the fact that Lugano are talking to his agent clearly shows that they think they have an attractive offer to make...and there's no doubt that they will fight very hard indeed for Soderberg's signature.
If nothing else, it's another bargaining chip for Soderberg in what could be some tough negotiation sessions between him and the Bruins this summer.