Arne Stromberg, the Washington Capitals' new European representative, came to town yesterday and liked what he saw. Stromberg thinks Swedish players will like this area, too, and believes the Capitals can rival the Winnipeg Jets' success in importing talented foreigners.
"The players realize that the National Hockey League is now the only place to play," said Stromberg, longtime coach of the Swedish national team. "Money comes first, of course, but I think this could be a good place for Swedes to play, with the embassy here and a lot of Swedish businessmen along the East Coast. Certainly, it is a better place than Winnipeg, where it was 40 below zero the last time I saw it."
Chief Scout Red Sullivan also joined General Manager Max McNab and Coach Tom McVie, who celebrates his 43rd birthday today, in a final check of the Capitals' evaluation of junior players before the June 15 draft. Stromberg 's specific role was the offering of names of Europeans 20-year-olds for possible selection.
"Arne will help us in many ways," MacNab said. "He will be able to tell us how young players at a certain stage of their development compare to (Borje) Salming or (Anders) Hedberg at a similar stage. I'm convinced the next Salming or Hedberg will come through the draft.
"Arne will also be able to give us an idea on how personalities will accept the adjustment here. That's the big problem, more so than the actual physical game. And, now that he has seen our organization, he will be able to discuss us with agents and players, and answer their questions on our behalf."
It will not do much good to draft a 20-year-old European on a future-negotiations basis, however, because a new NHL rule provides that any draftee who is signed within a year reverts to draft pool. In the past, a club retained rights forever over anyone it drafted.
Stromberg said it was unlikely that young Swedish players would want to come to North America to develop in the minor leagues.
"It takes alot of persuasion for someone to leave his homeland and so far away," Stromberg said. "Money is a great persuader. But the ordinary young player will stay at home, until he has acquired the skills and reputation that will bring a big salary."
The average NHL player weighed 191 pounds this year, compared to 174 pounds in 1951, when McNab was a center for Detroit. Stromberg thinks the physical growth of the players could eventually destroy hockey, if changes are not made.
"As they get bigger, there is less room to skate," Stromberg said. "They'll wreck the game. What you need here is the wider ice surface we have in Europe."
Most NHL rinks measure 200 feet by 85 feet wide, with a few older buildings even smaller. The specifications in Europe call for a 60-meter (197 feet) length and 30-meter (98 1/2 feet) width. Stromberg conceded it will not be easy to convert.
"I told Punch (Imlach) in Buffalo that his team would be better on the big ice," Stromberg said. "He worked out that they would have give up 2,000 seats to widen the ice. He said, 'No way.'"