CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 3: Mika Zibanejad #20 of Team Sweden generously offers a knuckle-sandwich to Jani Hakanpaa #7 of Team Finland during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Semifinal game at the Saddledome on January 3, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Team Sweden defeated Team Finland 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
As was reported by Bruce Garrioch late last week, Mika Zibanejad will remain in North America this season, playing pro with either the Ottawa or Binghamton Senators. Of particular note in the article were Tim Murray's unforgiving comments about Djurgårdens IF Hockey, the club Zibanejad played with last season and which was relegated from the country's top league after a... well... a flat-out terrible season.
Murray's comments, from the article:
"Nothing is ever a waste of time so it wasn't a waste of time, but it was close to that I guess," said Murray. "They weren't very good. I assume the management and coaching staff have to take some responsibility for that. The players suffer.
"Unless you're there every day you don't know, but I can say there were times they didn't (put him in the role they promised). Consistently, they didn't. There were probably times we didn't see them play that they did. Overall, no, it wasn't a great experience, that's for sure."
Harsh words, but are they fair? Zibanejad played just 26 games for Djurgårdens, as he started late due to his extended NHL audition with the Senators and also missed time during the World Juniors. In terms of average ice time per game, Zibanejad was the fifth-highest forward on Djurgårdens with 15:44 TOI/GP, according to the SEL's site. There's no way of knowing what quality those minutes were--short-handed, powerplay, Ozone or Dzone starts, and so on--but Zibanejad played a good amount when he was on the Djurgårdens roster.
On the other hand, we have no way of knowing what role Djurgårdens promised the Senators they'd put Zibanejad in. They certainly didn't surround him with the kind of talent necessary to succeed, as their team finished eleventh in the SEL and was subsequently relegated. Although we don't know how Zibanejad's ice time was broken down, we do know that of his five goals, none were on the powerplay while one was short-handed, which might indicate he was put in more of a defensive role than an offensive one.
Whatever the case, it's interesting to see the team's assistant GM take shots at a team on which not one but two--Zibanejad and Fredrik Claesson--played with last season. I'm certainly willing to give Murray the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this issue, because he seems to know what it takes to get young players developing properly. Hopefully the bad year last season didn't set either Zibanejad or Claesson back too far.