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Filip Hållander’s team has a moneyball CEO with a development mindset

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Who does that sound like?

2018 NHL Scouting Combine

When Kyle Dubas traded Kasperi Kapanen, he got back prospect Filip Hållander in the deal. In doing that, he accidentally aligned himself with a Swedish hockey club that has a lot in common with the Maple Leafs.

Hållander, still only 20 years old and in the first year of his ELC after the deal slid twice, is playing his third full year in the SHL, the second with Luleå Hockey. He’s walked back into a very familiar environment this season, now on loan from the Leafs, playing left wing with the same centre and in the same role on the team he had success with last year.

In their opening match of the SHL season, today, Luleå (last year’s regular season champion) won at home in front of empty stands in what is the new normal in the SHL. Luleå dramatically outshot a lacklustre Färjestad for two periods, taking a 3-0 lead in the very early part of the second period. They let off the pressure in third, and allowed two before finishing the game with an empty-net goal and a 4-2 result.

Hållander had three unblocked shots, all SOG, and no points with just over 14 minutes of TOI. The third line played a lot in holding the lead, so while nominally on the first line, Hållander and his line were third in ice time.

Hållander is a net-driver, and he’s aggressive in digging for pucks behind the net, tenacious at holding the net-front, and didn’t show much playmaking or passing in this first game.

His team is part of a club that includes a junior system, the best women’s team in the SDHL and the men’s club who feel like they were denied a good chance at a cup win last year and want to be the best team in the SHL, the one everyone hates to play.

Expressen’s Adam Johansson travelled way up north to Luleå to profile the club prior to today’s opening match. The story is very readable in translation, and should give you a feel for the place this new Leafs prospect will call home for a time.

The club is backed financially by Jakob Porser a video game designer, who made millions when the company that made Minecraft was sold to Microsoft. He has invested in the team, and the security of his backing is helping Luleå grow their entire club.

Stefan Enbom, the CEO of Luleå, discusses the men’s teams development model and how some enlightened self-interest is prompting their investment in the women’s teams:

“Our women’s and girls’ initiative has been extremely important for the entire association. Five years ago, it became a clear strategic target area, to build it up.”

Did it become the model for the men’s side?

“No, I would not say that. I would rather say that the men’s business with development power is the model for how we build the women’s and girls’ initiative now. We have a NIU (hockey school) with a second cohort now, and next year we have all-year groups. We will produce our own leaders and players on the girls’ side. There we have bought ourselves to success before because we recruited finished players.”

How much do you spend on your player budget in SDHL?

“We rarely talk about it, but say about ten percent of a men’s team, which generally costs around 40 million kroner. We pay the most in SDHL, together with maybe HV71 and Brynäs.”

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“The interest in hockey and the club has broadened thanks to the women’s team. We had strong support before, but we have never had the support we are experiencing now. From supporters and association life. We have incredible support among the county’s companies and supporters.”

Because you dared to do the right thing on the women’s side?

“Exactly.”

And Enbom is also open to other modern idea about hockey:

“I am analytically inclined and good at valuing what players are worth and what they can contribute. I probably have a Moneyball mindset, to get the best team together based on our bankroll.”

Moneyball, are you inspired by that movie?

“Well, but to always find undervalued players. Those who have a lower salary than they perform or those who are developable and who we can motivate to come here for a lower money. In exchange, they become better players who can later make better money and reach the national team. So we have to motivate the players.”

Engman loves the puzzle that comes with sports management.

“You need to make sure which group you have. It is not possible to recruit 14 forwards who all require games in powerplay. Then the group does not work. Role acceptance is very important when we recruit.”

He talks about the importance of development, about the teamwork of his staff and makes an interesting comment about how some veteran players don’t want to sign with Luleå because they have a tough and demanding atmosphere. He describes the modern ideal of hockey players as puck-possession players with skating and puck-handling skills. The days of the old-fashioned player who was big and strong are gone, and he says a player has to be able to skate to succeed.

Money, analytics, modern ideas. All Kyle Dubas needs to do to catch up to Luleå is realize the business case for supporting women’s and girl’s hockey is obvious, particularly in an era when ticket sales can’t be counted on as the major revenue stream. But as we’ve seen over the last few months, the Leafs and MLSE are willing to put their money behind their messages about diversity and inclusion.

Hållander manning the net-front position as his linemate makes it 3-0 today.