With NHL calendar uncertain, Blackhawks loaning many prospects to European teams this fall

Six Hawks prospects have been loaned to various teams across Europe so far, with Brandon Hagel becoming the first North American to head over this week.

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Brandon Hagel is one of six Blackhawks loaned to European teams so far.

Brandon Hagel is one of six Blackhawks loaned to European teams so far.

Winslow Townson/AP

Blackhawks prospect forward Brandon Hagel recently approached his agent, Allain Roy, with a request: he wanted a loan to a European team.

For players on NHL contracts, loans are historically very rare. The league’s September-to-April calendar is intense enough as is. But like with many other things, 2020 is a year like no other, and the NHL’s calendar has changed radically.

The 2020-21 season — which normally would’ve begun within the next week — won’t start until December at the earliest, and even that seems unlikely right now.

And so, with a long wait ahead for hockey to resume on this continent, Hagel wanted to play games somewhere — even if it required a trans-Atlantic move.

“Like a lot of other players, the Groundhog Day routine of training every day with the same guys is getting old,” Roy said this week. “To get in game action and see a little bit of the world and play at a decent level, it’s an exciting thing.”

Roy used a mutual connection to contact the general manager of HC Thurgau, a second-division club in Switzerland, and Hagel’s temporary loan from Chicago to Thurgau was announced Tuesday.

Switzerland’s leagues, like most others in Europe, entirely cancelled the remainder of their 2019-20 seasons during the spring COVID-19 outbreak, allowing them to begin their 2020-21 seasons at the usual time this fall. Hagel will play a normal multiple-games-per-week schedule.

Tuesday’s announcement made Hagel the sixth Hawks prospect so far to go on loan this fall.

Pius Suter is with GCK Lions, another second-division Swiss team. Philipp Kurashev is with HC Lugano, a first-division Swiss team. Tim Soderlund is with Almtuna IS, a second-division Swedish team. Michal Teply and Matej Chalupa are with BK Mladá Bolesla and Mountfield HK, respectively, in the Czech Republic.


Philipp Kurashev, like Hagel, is one of six Blackhawks players currently on loan to Europe.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

Indeed, across the NHL, European loans are all the rage, with 103 officially disclosed so far.

The Oilers and Kings lead the way with a whopping 13 and 10 loaned players, respectively. The Hawks are tied with the Jets, Capitals and Red Wings for the third-most players on loan.

Hawks GM Stan Bowman said Wednesday the team hasn’t spent much time “shopping around to find a destination” for their prospects, instead leaving that work up to players’ agents.

But he added the Hawks have been “supportive of players who want to do that,” which Roy confirmed.

NHL Players on European Loans
Atlantic Division Metro Division Central Division Pacific Division
Red Wings - 6 Capitals - 6 Blackhawks - 6 Oilers - 13
Maple Leafs - 4 Devils - 4 Jets - 6 Kings - 10
Canadiens - 4 Blue Jackets - 4 Predators - 2 Flames - 5
Senators - 3 Flyers - 4 Blues - 2 Sharks - 5
Panthers - 1 Rangers - 3 Avalanche - 1 Canucks - 3
Sabres - 1 Penguins - 2 Wild - 1 Ducks - 1
Bruins - 0 Hurricanes - 2 Stars - 0 Coyotes - 1
Lightning - 0 Islanders - 2 Knights - 1

Unfortunately, demand is quickly exceeding supply. Most European teams have a limited number of “import” roster spots — Swiss teams, for example, can only play two North Americans at a time.

Other leagues, like the Swedish Hockey League, won’t permit short-term contracts of less than a full season — thus why Soderlund is in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division, which will.

Hagel, an Alberta native, got lucky. He’s one of only 15 Canadian- or American-born players among the 103 on loan.

“It was not easy,” Roy said. “The last two weeks, I’m getting a lot of calls from guys that say they want to play in Europe. But the problem is there aren’t that many jobs.”

Suter and his agent, Georges Muller, ran into a similar issue, creating a rather absurd scenario.

Suter was named the Swiss league MVP last season after scoring 53 points in 50 games with Zurich SC. But after Suter signed with the Hawks on July 16, Zurich filled his spot, and when Suter asked in early September about a return via loan, they couldn’t fit in even the reigning MVP.

“Instead of playing with a rival organization, Pius has chosen to play with the farm team of Zurich,” Muller said this week. “If the NHL start gets postponed [further], we will have to re-evaluate the situation, as Pius most probably won’t play longer than a month in the farm team.”

Suter and Hagel will likely both dominate Switzerland’s second division, but at least they’ll be playing hockey. It’s a luxury many of their NHL peers won’t enjoy in the coming months.

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