What are six foreigners doing in the National League? First balance sheet

In Geneva, foreigners like Teemu Hartikainen, Linus Omark and Henrik Tömmernes dominated.Image: keystone

Eismeister Zaugg

More foreigners make the league and the national team better. In the short term – but only in the short term – the sports calculation works. But who should pay for the spectacle?

14/11/2022, 06:4914/11/2022, 08:03

Klaus Zugg

In the last two years, no topic has interested us as much as the increase in the number of foreigners per team from four to six. After a good third of qualification and the first appearance of the national team, we can now assess the opportunities and risks of the new regulations on foreigners.

The positive effect is an obvious improvement in level. The global political situation played into the hands of our hockey: the KHL is no longer a competitor on the player market. Never before have we had so many world-class players, so many world champions and Olympic champions in their prime in our top league.

And since there are no longer just four, but six per team, it is possible that they will carry a nominally weaker team. The balance has never been bigger. We still have to get used to the fact that every night in every game every result is possible.

Probably the most typical match for the new balance so far was the match against Kloten in the last round before the international break on November 5. The promoted team played at eye level with the champions throughout. After five wins in a row, Kloten suffered another defeat (4:5).

But this level up also has side effects. Young players must wear one of these. Two other foreigners will get approximately 40 minutes of ice time per game. This ice age is now missing for young players.

Noah Delémont (left) gets a little ice time near Biel.

Noah Delémont (left) gets a little ice time near Biel.Image: keystone

An example of this side effect: Biel has two foreign defenders. Luca Christen (24) was one of the best defenders in the Swiss league last season. He is now under contract with Biel. But he will first spend the autumn with his old team in Langenthal. No place in Biel. For his development, every game in the Swiss league is a lost game. And glasses defender Noah Delémont (20) would have more movement if Biel didn’t have two foreign defenders. With less than 10 minutes, he is only 83rd in the ice time rankings of Swiss defensemen. He would have the talent, will and courage for twice the ice time.

And the national team?

Another question: how will the new foreigner regulation affect the national team? It can be assumed that the issue of foreigners will be used as an excuse for possible disappointment in future World Cup tournaments.

It would be a cheap excuse: the best Swiss (i.e. national players) are not pushed out by foreign competition. But more wanted. There are currently only two less Swiss players in the first 40 positions of the league’s scorers table than last season. From this point of view, the new regulation on foreigners had a stimulating effect on the national team. National players are improving.

Switzerland impressed at the Karjala Cup.

Switzerland impressed at the Karjala Cup.Image: keystone

There’s also a side effect: if you’re already able to play the main role, you’ll actually improve. Anyway, the first appearance of the national team under the new foreigner regulation was promising: wins against Finland (3:2 aet) and the Czech Republic (3:2 aet) and defeat (2:3 aet) against Sweden.

On the other hand, it will be more difficult for those who have the talent to become a representative but are not yet a representative. The “Developmental Ice Age” is becoming a rare commodity. This can have fatal consequences: no other major hockey nation has so many talents who can only make their mark at the highest level at the age of 22, 23 or even 24.

So the vexing question: How much talent are we losing by increasing the number of foreigners? Other major hockey countries do not have comparable restrictions on foreigners, and Finland does not even have one. But the big hockey nations are churning out a lot more talent year after year. We need to nurture our talents much more and give them second and third chances.

What about the goalkeepers?

In the medium term, there will be a problem at the goalkeeper position. Without world-class goalkeepers, Switzerland has no chance of advancing to the medal ranks at the World Championships. A successor to World Cup medalist goalkeepers Martin Gerber, Reto Berry and Leonardo Genoni is not in sight (yet).

The best young goalkeeper of the Swiss National League this autumn is Philip Wüthrich (24), who is number one in a difficult situation in Bern. Sandro Aeschlimann (27) just proved himself in Finland in the match against Sweden (2:3 aet).

The most talented young goalkeeper in the league is Joren van Pottelberghe (25). Biel far exceeded expectations in the golden autumn. With a foreign goalkeeper. If Joren van Pottelberghe returns from injury, can he unseat Harri Säteri (32)? He will only be a goalkeeper at the World Cup in 2026 if – like Philip Wüthrich and Sandro Aeschlimann – he is at club number 1.

No foreigner has yet replaced the Swiss goalkeeper with the World Cup format. However, there is a significant danger that talented Swiss players like Joren van Pottelberghe will not get the chance to prove themselves in the top league and develop into World Cup goalkeepers. This is one of the risks of the new foreign regulation.

Leonardo Genoni will be 39 years old at the 2026 World Cup. Patrick Fischer is depending on the Swiss league to develop a World Cup goalkeeper. If the hockey gods are on his side, Akira Schmid, 22, will be an NHL star by 2026 and available for the World Cup.

In the short term – but only in the short term – the new foreign regulation has more positive than negative effects on the sport. If the foreigner regulation is used as an excuse at the World Cup, all alarm bells should be ringing. Then the problem is elsewhere.

We do not yet know the medium and long-term effects. And it will be possible to see the financial impact only next summer.

What about the cost?

The most important argument in increasing the number of foreigners: to save money.

Gottéron, Ajoie, Ambri, Lugano, Bern, Langnau and ZSC Lions already bought seven foreign licenses in November, Lausanne even eight. None of these other foreigners are “cheap workers” for less than 50,000 francs net from Denmark, Norway or Slovakia. Only the 7th foreigner from Langnau Cody Eakin is cost neutral: he replaces Alexander Grenier, who immediately moved to Berlin.

It is already becoming clear that the calculation with the new foreign regulation will not work and that each team will be significantly more expensive.

Who should pay for the spectacle? Fans? No, an increase in ticket prices is not an option. Clubs must be happy to reach pre-Corona stadium occupancy again.

An increase in ticket prices is out of the question.

An increase in ticket prices is out of the question.Image: keystone

TV station in the next TV contract? No. The clubs must be happy if they extend it for four years under the same conditions (around 30 million per league).

Advertising partners? No, clubs must be happy to keep their advertising budgets.

So it applies to managers: sign good, expensive foreigners today, pay a minus tomorrow or the day after. Sport may have become a business. However, the reason for investors entering the hockey business is not rational considerations and expectations of profit. But emotions.

The hope that someone will pay the bills no matter what may seem a little frivolous.

But it’s not completely unwarranted.

The Netherlands last participated in the World Cup in 2014, when Louis van Gaal was once again the coach. With him, the success of “Elftal” returned. Despite health problems, he finally wants a title after third place in Brazil. Our series on key figures from the World Cup favourites.

It’s 16:44 local time on June 13, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil, when Daley Blind of the Netherlands swings in a cross just past the halfway line. Robin van Persie should arrive, who beat Iker Casillas with a sensational diving header. The goal was later nominated for the Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal of the year.

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