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A primer on Swedish Hockey Leagues and how they all fit together

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A deeper look at the SHL and the other top Swedish leagues

NHL: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

During Ron Hextall’s tenure as a general manager, there wasn’t a lot to be happy about with the Flyers. One of the few bright spots over the past few years has been following all the great prospects the Flyers have drafted all over the world. They’ve found quality talent in the Swedish leagues with the likes of Oskar Lindblom, Samuel Ersson, and Felix Sandström and today we’re going to dive in a bit deeper on the Swedish hockey leagues and how they are setup and how good the leagues actually are. Trust me — it gets pretty complicated.

The three best leagues in Sweden are:

  1. Svenska Hockeyligan (SHL) 14 teams: 8 teams in the playoffs, 2 teams play relegation games
  2. HockeyAllsvenskan 14 teams: 8 teams fight for promotion, 2 teams play promotion games
  3. HockeyEttan 47 teams divided into 4 divisions, 4 teams play promotion games

How are the Swedish leagues organized?

Svenska Hockeyligan is more known as SHL for the hockey people over in the US. Back in 2013 they changed the name of the league from Elitserien to Svenska Hockeyligan and in 2015 they increased the teams to a total of 14 from the previous 12. Both SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan play 52 regular season games where the winner of the regular season in the SHL gets a bonus of one million Swedish Crowns which is roughly around $100,000 in US Dollars. The Swedish leagues all use a 3-point system where you get 3 points for a win in regular time and 2 points if you win in overtime/shootouts.

Teams 1-6 during the regular season all qualify for the playoffs while teams 7-10 will play a best of three playoff series for the last two spots. (7 vs 10 and 8 vs 9). The SHL used to let the teams pick who they wanted to play against, example: regular season winner picks first, and then the second best team and so on. In the 2013-14 season they changed it so the top team plays against the worst ranked team and so on. When the “real” SHL playoffs start they all play best of seven series just like the NHL.

Teams 13 and 14 of the regular season will play a best of seven relegation series against the two best teams from HockeyAllsvenskan.

That wasn't so complicated now, was it? Now we will get to the complicated part of the promotion/relegation system that the Swedish leagues use:

Team 1-2 in HockeyAllsvenskan play each other in a best of five series called “Allsvensk Final” where the winner will play the worst ranked team of the SHL in a best of seven series. The losing team in the Allsvensk Final series will play the winner of “Slutspelserien”.

Slutspelserien is basically a playoff system between teams 3-8 in HockeyAllsvenskan who all play each other twice: once at home and once away. After this, the winner of Slutspelserien will play the loser of the Allsvenskan Final in a best of three series where the winner of that series will play against the 13th ranked team from the SHL.

So basically, the two worst teams in the SHL and the two best teams from HockeyAllsvenskan fight for two spots in the SHL. It’s not necessarily the number one and two ranked teams from HockeyAllsvenskan, since every team ranked 1-8 has a chance to still get promoted after the regular season is over.

I honestly have no idea why they’ve complicated it like this, but, believe it or not, the HockeyEttan system is even more complicated. I won’t even attempt to explain it, all I will say is: four teams from HockeyEttan and the two worst teams from HockeyAllsvenskan will play each other twice, once home and once away where the two best teams get promoted.

How good are these leagues compared to the NHL and AHL?

There’s no denying that the NHL is far superior to any other league in the world with all of the best players gathered into one league. But there are some other really good leagues around the world and I would personally rank the SHL as the fourth best league after the NHL, KHL, and AHL. The best Swedish teams are on the level of low-to-mid-level KHL teams but it’s tough to rank them exactly. When Oskar Lindblom played his final year with Brynäs, he was the best forward in the league, but when he came over to the US he still needed time to adjust to the smaller rink, faster pace and better players, and he’s still “only” a second or third line player in the NHL. It’s very rare that a player from the SHL/HockeyAllsvenskan can jump over to the AHL/NHL and be dominant straight away. Elias Pettersson did it, so it’s possible but it’s very rare.

Michael Raffl is another example. For two years he played in HockeyAllsvenskan (second highest Swedish league) and he only needed two AHL games before getting called up to the Flyers and never looked back. He’s been a really good role player for the Flyers the past six seasons. This was incredible scouting by the Flyers.

All-in-all, the SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan are both really good leagues for young prospects to develop in. They don’t shy away from giving young players a lot of ice time. Something the Swedes are known for throughout the years is developing young players into quality all round players. Not all will have the quality to play in the NHL but it’s still pretty impressive.