(originally published December 17, 2006)
Much has been made in recent weeks of the departure of ex-Peoria Riverman Magnus Kahnberg back to Sweden, and of an interview given to a Swedish journalist by Kahnberg shortly after returning to his homeland.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, Kahnberg did an interview with Peoria beat writer Dave Eminian in which he said that he wasn't thinking about going back, and that he was committed to earning a shot with the Blues. In the Swedish interview, however, Kahnberg noted that he started thinking about returning to Sweden around the first of November, and during the time frame when he was interviewed by Eminian, was already actively discussing with the Blues the terms under which he could go back home.
In another interview, on December 11, 2006 with the Swedish newspaper "Expressen," Kahnberg referred to Peoria as a "boring" city, and noted that the team's playing style was slow and static (a point he also made in the Eminian interview), which was not how he was used to playing or wanted to play.
Leaving aside any opinions about Kahnberg's character and honesty in telling Eminian one thing while doing another, there may be some valuable lessons for the Blues to learn from this whole rather unfortunate situation. Kahnberg is not the first European player this year to reject the AHL; Phoenix prospect Enver Lisin was assigned to AHL San Antonio on November 27, but refused to report and went back to Russia. Earlier this season, the Blues had a pair of highly-regarded prospects, Carl Söderberg and Alexei Shkotov, both balk at assignment to Peoria, and both are playing in their home countries.
Many large corporations now conduct an "exit interview" with management-level employees when those employees leave the company, in the hopes of determining any systemic shortcomings that can be fixed to keep others happy and in the company's employ. Maybe the Blues might want to use this as Kahnberg's "exit interview," and use the information gathered here to take another look at some of their processes and methods regarding the Rivermen and prospect development -- especially with Europeans?
A special thanks goes out to Johan Karlsson at the "Hockey's Future" website, for translating the "Expressen" interview from the original Swedish. What follows are some excerpts from that interview:
Expressen: Was the step from the SEL to the NHL bigger then what you thought?
Kahnberg: No, I was very well prepared both mentally and physically. I had a good camp and was surprised when I was sent down in the last cut.
Expressen: You ended up on the farm-team Peoria Rivermen in the AHL, how was that?
Kahnberg: It was a boring city, there was nothing to do. I've probably seen every movie in the theater that there is to see; just to walk my dog I had to take the car and go 10 minutes away.
Expressen: What was the standard of the hockey?
Kahnberg: I didn't like the way we played hockey. It was a very strict game, we stood still and there was no speed. It was not developing for myself and after a month I just wanted out. The joy disappeared, the fun was taken out of the game.
Expressen: How was the mood among the players on the team?
Kahnberg: They were great guys, but there you mostly play for yourself and not as a team. For example in a 2-1 (game), players mostly shot the puck. Afterwards there were big piles of paper filled with stats which the players read to see how they had performed.
Expressen: Did you and your girlfriend live in a hotel during the entire stay?
Kahnberg: No, in St. Louis I lived in a guest-room in Christian Bäckman's house. When I got demoted we lived in a hotel room for a month before moving in with a teammate in his new house in which we rented a room. Sure, it was a hassle, but we kept our spirits up.
Agree or disagree with Kahnberg's stance, there's some interesting first-hand insight here as to how things are going at Peoria. Let's break down those comments a little.
From all accounts, and from what little personal observation the Game Time prospect department was able to make, Kahnberg had a pretty good training camp, and probably should have gotten an opportunity to at least start the season up on the big club. Based on this, and the Shkotov/Söderberg defections, and the Konstantin Zakharov departure from Alaska last year, it'd be easy to say that the Blues are gaining a reputation for not giving their European prospects a fair shake... but then, how do you explain rookie Roman Pola'k starting the year in St. Louis? Or Zakharov's decision to return and give it another go?
Secondly, I'll grant you that Peoria's not exactly the most exciting and cosmopolitan of cities, but remember, Magnus... you're there to play hockey, not to dig the swingin' nightlife. Nonetheless, he does seem to be making a valid point that the organization may not be doing enough to help the newcomers and their families or significant others adjust to a new lifestyle in North America.
The most interesting of Kahnberg's comments are those about the players focusing more on their individual game, and about the team's overall game plan.
It might be expected for players at that level to be more focused on developing themselves as individuals, so as to give themselves the best possible chance to be promoted to the NHL... but it's also not an unreasonable expectation to think that there should be a coherent "team" concept, even at that level, that can harness the individual energy of the players and guide them all in the same direction. If that's not happening, that's something that the Blues might want to look at and fix, if necessary.
It's also interesting that, from the sound of it, the coaching staff in Peoria is teaching the prospects to play the same kind of deliberate, defense-oriented game that the Blues had been playing under Mike Kitchen. Certainly, you want continuity of systems, and of instruction, in your organization... but since the system in St. Louis is about to be altered, perhaps drastically so, as a result of Andy Murray's hiring as head coach, are the Peoria coaches prepared -- or even able -- to adjust their coaching tactics and game plan in mid-season, in order to maintain that continuity throughout the organization?
We'll discuss these issues, and throw out some ideas for addressing them, in our next report. Until then, check out archived "Tomorrow's Blues" articles and other prospect-related content on the "Future 'Notes" blog at http://futurenotes.blogspot.com, and remember... "if we do not prepare for ourselves the role of the hammer, there will be nothing left but that of the anvil." Auf wiedersehen.
Kahnberg's interview with "Expressen," 12-11-06:
Eminian's interview with Kahnberg, 11-21-06: