Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Elitserien - Sweden's Elite League

The Swedish Elite League (SEL), or Elitserien as it's known in Sweden, is a twelve team league icing some of the world's best skaters.

Background
Officially formed in 1975 upon the absorption of Sweden's then Division 1 offering Allsvenskan, the ten team league evolved to twelve in as many years. Skating on international-sized surfaces in arenas ranging from 5,040 to 12,044 seats spread from the northern reaches of Luleå to the southern city of Ängelholm, the SEL offers a wide open brand of hockey with an intriguing regular season point structure and playoff system.

Though the IIHF ranks the league fourth in Europe behind their Russian, Finnish, and Czech counterparts experts claim it matches the KHL's level of play and exceeds that of the other two countries' offerings.

Regular Season
The 55 game regular season begins in late September and ends in early March, averaging two to three games per week, with each team playing each other 5 times. Regulation ties are extended to a five minute 4-on-4 sudden death overtime with points awarded in a 3/1/0 format for regulation wins, overtime wins or a tie, and regulation losses or overtime losses, respectively. There are no shootouts.

The team with the most points at the end of the regular season is crowned league champion with the top eight finishers qualifying for the playoffs. Of the remaining four teams, the 9th and 10th ranked clubs are done for the year with the 11th and 12th place finishers relegated to the Kvalserien series to compete for the right to return to Elitserien the following year.

Playoffs
In March and April eight teams compete in a three round best-of-seven elimination style tournament to determine the Swedish Champion. Though a national champion has been crowned as far back as 1922, the title has belonged to the SEL playoff winner since 1975.

Home ice advantage has the higher ranked team in each series hosting games 2, 4, 5, and 7. Regarding opponents, the league champion selects its first round foe from the two lowest ranked teams. Second and third place finishers then take their turn choosing among the next lowest seeded pairs with the fourth place team playing the remainder. Squads are reseeded in the semifinals with the highest ranked team playing the lowest and the middle pair meeting. The remaining two face off in the finals.

Kvalserien
The two lowest ranked teams from the Elitserien regular season are sent to the Kvalserien series to play in a six team round robin tournament with four of the best from the Sweden's second tier league HockeyAllsvenskan. The tournament's top two finishers qualify for Elitserien's next regular season with the bottom four being banished to HockeyAllsvenskan.

Awards
The regular season's top finishing trio collects cash ($150,000, $75,000, $37,500) with the SM-guld winner hoisting the Le Mat. Other SEL honors include the Håkan Loob for the regular season goal-scoring leader, the press-selected Årets Rookie for the top rookie, and the Golden Helmet (Guldhjälmen) for the player-picked MVP. The Golden Puck (Guldpucken) goes to nation's top player regardless of league affiliation.

Future
Five teams (Färjestad, Frölunda, Djurgården, Linköping, HV71) from the south of Sweden have informed Elitserien of their intention to pull out after the 2009-2010 season and explore a relationship with the KHL. It's unclear how the SEL will adapt if these clubs depart.

The progressive 3/1/0 point system, top three finishers' selection of their first round playoff opponent, requalification for the bottom pair, commencement of a power play in the penalized team's defensive zone, and relaxed September to March 55 game regular season highlight the progressive nature of the SEL. Let's hope the NHL will one day look to the Elitserien for infrastructure amendments in addition to young talent.

Team standings for 2009-2010 Elitserien regular season may be found here with news and highlights from the games residing here.

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