by PuckStopsHere on 12/19/12 at 09:53 PM ET
The World Junior Championships begin on December 26th in Ufa, Russia. They will be a stronger tournament that usual because players who would be in the NHL are available since they are locked out. Except things are not quite that simple. Even though the NHL is locked out, one team is preventing their player from participating in the tournament.
Mika Zibanejad is Ottawa Senator property. They drafted him sixth overall in 2011. He participated in the 2012 World Junior Championships and scored the gold medal winning goal He is one of the top junior aged players in the world. He played nine NHL games last season before finishing his season in Sweden. This season he is playing in the AHL with the Binghamton Senators and has not been a star. He has only one goal and six assists in sixteen games played. The Sens feel that he would be better served playing in the AHL than in the World Junior Championships. That is a questionable statement and when the lockout is considered it is questionable if the Sens even have the right to do this.
Zibanejad is Swedish and that is the only reason Ottawa has not created a national scandal from their actions. Canada is the only country that takes the World Junior Championships seriously. The boards in European rinks holding World Junior games often have advertisements on the boards that are geared for Canadian TV audiences instead of the local audience at the arena (Canadian Tire or Tim Horton's for example). Canada would be very upset if a Canadian team was keeping a Canadian player out of the tournament. There is less interest in the competition. Sweden is the defending champions and their being weakened is encouraged by the partisan Canadian fans.
It is bad practice to keep a player who is struggling at the AHL level out of the World Junior Championships when he could gain some confidence starring overseas in a high level tournament. It is bad for public relations. Given the NHL lockout it really makes an NHL look like they have overstepped their boundaries. A legal challenge of this would likely show that this is the case. If Mika Zibanejad was a Canadian this would be a major scandal in Canada. Since he is Swedish the Ottawa Senators have been able to get away with it without much backlash.
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