Potential Blackhawks forward Brandon Hagel recently approached his agent, Allain Roy, with a request: he wanted a loan to a European team.

For NHL contract players, loans are historically very rare. The league’s September through April schedule is intense enough as is. But like so many other things, 2020 is a year like no other, and the NHL schedule has changed dramatically.

The 2020-21 season – which would normally have started within the next week – won’t start until December at the earliest, and even that seems unlikely at this time.

And so, with a long wait for hockey to resume on this continent, Hagel wanted to play games somewhere – even if it required a transatlantic move.

“Like many other players, the Groundhog Day routine of training with the same guys every day is getting older,” Roy said this week. “To get into the action of the game and see a bit of the world and play at a decent level, it’s an exciting thing.”

Roy used a mutual connection to contact the general manager of HC Thurgau, a second division club in Switzerland, and Hagel’s temporary loan from Chicago to Thurgau was announced on Tuesday.

The Swiss leagues, like most others in Europe, canceled the remainder of their 2019-20 seasons entirely during the COVID-19 outbreak in the spring, allowing them to start their 2020-21 seasons at the usual time this fall. Hagel will play a regular schedule of several matches per week.

Tuesday’s announcement made Hagel the sixth Hawks prospect so far to be loaned out this fall.

Pius Suter is with GCK Lions, another Swiss second division team. Philipp Kurashev is with HC Lugano, a Swiss first division team. Tim Soderlund is with Almtuna IS, a Swedish second division team. Michal Teply and Matej Chalupa are respectively with BK Mladá Bolesla and Mountfield HK in the Czech Republic.

Philipp Kurashev, like Hagel, is one of six Blackhawks players currently on loan to Europe.
Victor Hilitski / For the Sun-Times

Indeed, across the NHL, European loans are all the rage, with 103 officially disclosed to date.

The Oilers and Kings lead the way with 13 and 10 players on loan, respectively. The Hawks are tied with the Jets, Capitals and Red Wings for third most loaned players.

Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said on Wednesday the team hadn’t spent a lot of time “looking for a destination” for their prospects, leaving the work to the players’ agents instead.

But he added that the Hawks have “supported the players who want to do this”, which Roy confirmed.

NHL players on European loans

Atlantic Division Metro Division Central division Pacific Division
Atlantic Division Metro Division Central division Pacific Division
Red Wings – 6 Capitals – 6 Blackhawks – 6 Oilers – 13
Maple leaves – 4 Devils – 4 Jets – 6 Kings – 10
Canadians – 4 Blue jackets – 4 Predators – 2 Flames – 5
Senators – 3 Flyers – 4 Blues – 2 Sharks – 5
Panthers – 1 Rangers – 3 Avalanche – 1 Canucks – 3
Sabers – 1 Penguins – 2 Wild – 1 Ducks – 1
Bruins – 0 Hurricanes – 2 Stars – 0 Coyote – 1
Lightning – 0 Islanders – 2 Knights – 1

Unfortunately, demand is quickly outstripping supply. Most European teams have a limited number of places on the “import” list – Swiss teams, for example, can only play against two North Americans at a time.

Other leagues, like the Swedish Hockey League, won’t allow short-term contracts of less than a full season – which is why Soderlund is in the Allsvenskan, Sweden’s second division, which will.

Hagel, originally from Alberta, was lucky. He is one of 15 players born in Canada or the United States among the 103 loaned.

“It wasn’t easy,” Roy said. “Over the past two weeks I’ve been getting a lot of calls from guys saying they want to play in Europe. But the problem is, there aren’t a lot of jobs.

Suter and his agent, Georges Muller, ran into a similar problem, creating a rather absurd scenario.

Suter was named Swiss league MVP last season after scoring 53 points in 50 games for Zurich SC. But after Suter signed with the Hawks on July 16, Zurich filled his spot, and when Suter asked for a loan return in early September, they couldn’t even make the reigning MVP.

“Instead of playing with a rival organization, Pius chose to play with the Zurich agricultural team,” Muller said this week. “If the start of the NHL is postponed [further], we will have to re-evaluate the situation, as Pius will probably not play more than a month on the farm team.

Suter and Hagel will both likely dominate Switzerland’s Second Division, but at least they’ll be playing hockey. It’s a luxury many of their NHL peers won’t enjoy over the next few months.

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