One thing social media has done for the sports world and those who closely follow it is the ability to see moves happening weeks before they ever do.
Back in the dark ages, blockbuster trades and huge free agent signings could rock the sports world simply because no one saw them coming. Now, with the prominence of Twitter, everyone is an insider.
I heard rumours of Damien Brunner signing with an NHL club as early as two weeks ago. Today it was confirmed through multiple sources that on July 1, Brunner will sign with the Wings. Several NHL clubs were said to be interested in signing the 5’11″, 187 pound winger, and Montreal and Minnesota each reportedly offered him a contract.
His skill set has been compared to Red Wings UFA Jiri Hudler in that he is offensively gifted, possesses a good shot, and handles the puck well, except Brunner is also a very good skater. Brunner was the leading scorer in the Swiss league this past year with 60 points in 45 games. In fact, since joining Zug partway through the 2008-09 campaign, Brunner has been really racking up the points.
This signing follows a similar path as the Fabian Brunnstrom deal four years ago. Late in the 2007-08 season, Brunnstrom was reported to have as many as 5 suitors, and the Stars wound up signing the Swedish winger. At the time, Brunnstrom was being hailed as a sure-fire top six forward in the NHL. Well, four years later and the NHL is still waiting on Brunnstrom. He flamed out in Dallas after a torrid start and has spent the better part of the last three seasons in the American league with the Texas Stars, Toronto Marlies and Grand Rapids Griffins.
The day after Brunnstrom elected to sign with Dallas, the Wings picked up consolation prize Ville Leino. Leino was the top player in the Finnish SM-Liiga, yet despite a fantastic rookie season in Grand Rapids and a late season call up that showed promise, Leino played his way into Mike Babcock’s doghouse and out of Detroit. He has since signed a laughably bad contract with Buffalo.
Anyway, back to Brunner. The important thing with guys like he, Brunnstrom and Leino is to keep in mind that they weren’t playing in the NHL right now for a reason. While the European leagues are very good, they don’t compare to the NHL and it’s only reasonable to expect at least a year for these players to adjust to North America. I expect that when the signing is announced on July 1, it will be for a similar term as the last two big European imports, 1-2 years, $875,000 average salary, with the possibility for bonuses earned for games played in the NHL.
It would be realistic to expect Brunner to start out in the American league and have to earn a spot with the big club. However, with Detroit searching high and low for offense, if he blows the doors off in the pre-season like Brunnstrom did a year ago, he could find himself starting with the big boys after all.