Three weeks ago, I found myself in a hotel lobby in downtown Stockholm, feeling rather high from a pleasantly languid combination of jet lag and excitement. I was engaged in friendly conversation with the affable middle-aged man at the check-in counter, and buoyed by the fact that I now found myself in a hockey-crazy country, asked him with the enthusiasm if he watches hockey, already ready to get his take on Adam Larsson's offensive potential in the next sentence.
"No. None of us watch hockey," he responded briskly, each word like a dagger piercing my fragile little heart.
"Oh. Haha. Is that so?" I responded casually, my fake smile barely concealing the monumental disappointment crushing my soul as the check-in concluded. The point of this exchange is, though Swedes may be jovial and easygoing people, they are also honest and rather blunt (without the intent to hurt anyone's feelings), a trait that lends itself well to producing stellar interviews.
This is why I decided it was of monumental importance that Oscar Klefbom's recent interview with Hockey Sverige be translated and analyzed for Swedish nuggets of wisdom. Aside from the fact that Oilers fan miss Klefbom's face dearly, interviews with foreign outlets always seem to be much more candid and juicy than North American ones. They're certainly more refreshing than the usual exchanges we see between reporters and players in North America, where the player tries their hardest to fight and evade the question like a Zubat dodging a Pokeball, saying a lot while not really saying anything at all.
Perhaps European players feel somehow more protected under the umbrella of their mother tongue. Well, it seems they have not heard of our good friend from Mountain View, Google Translate, always here to provide colloquially incoherent but generally comprehensible interpretations of what was said, most often resulting in controversial quotes blamed on cultural context and meaning being "lost in translation."
Speaking of, you may have seen the buzz on Twitter from Klefbom's one quote about Taylor Hall:
As you may have suspected, if you read the full interview there's more context surrounding that statement to significantly soften the harshness of the comment when taken standalone, but the gist of what was quoted holds quite true. Believe it or not, Klefbom actually says a lot more important things beyond the one overscrutinized Hall comment, and provides many important details on key pieces of the team next year, including himself.
Klefbom's interview probably could not have happened at a worse time, because July is when hockey fans most resemble bloodthirsty vampires looking for any signs or news of the sport they love, at its most quiet time of the year. A pindrop becomes pots banging against each other in this type of hockey news environment, and Klefbom seems to have been the unfortunate victim of unexpected overscrutiny over a local article he probably didn't expect to register on anyone's consciousness, clearly not having taken into account people like myself who willingly spend large chunks of a Sunday afternoon picking apart his words with delight.
As is obvious from the many rather interesting phrases that emerged in my experience translating the article, which you will soon discover for yourself, autotranslation is serviceable but still to be taken with a good deal of skepticism, as it not only does not translate colloquialisms, it provides little explanation for cultural differences like a directness and honesty that may seem grating to those who grew up in a Canadian culture emphasizing humility and politeness. While most people seem to have reacted reasonably to this, there was enough uproar to prompt Klefbom to issue a clarification from Sweden, and outsized reactions like today's only work to suck any candor out of future interviews from players who have not already sanitized their speech to the point of brain-numbing nothingness.
Another important note about this interview is the fact that we are reminded of Oscar Klefbom's existence, and the fact that he will be playing again soon-- just let that sink in. I still believe the loss of Klefbom was the single biggest blow to the team last season. If losing Yakupov is akin to losing your left pinkie, then losing McDavid is like losing your entire right leg and losing Klefbom is pretty much losing your entire torso-- everything falls apart. The Oilers were a (rather grotesque, if we go by this metaphor) discombobulated mess last season but the loss of Klefbom really made a difference in their record, going 13-15-2 with him and 18-28-6 without.
Hereby, enjoy the musings of the man from Karlsbad we most eagerly look forward to seeing in a few months.
The Headline- "Swede Egoboost the nightmare time: 'I thought I needed more than McDavid'"
I had a crisis of faith when Google Translate presented me with this perplexing headline. I furrowed my brows in confusion, trying to extract some meaning from a completely nonsensical set of words that seemed more like a recap of a Scandinavian arthouse horror/romance film than a hockey interview.
It only made sense after I read the entire article, and it actually sums everything up nicely. Basically, Klefbom ("Swede") got an egoboost ("Egoboost") despite the horrific freak injury he suffered ("nightmare time") when he realized how much the team needed him, and people even said he was a bigger loss to the team than McDavid ("I thought I needed more than McDavid").
On His Injury
We get a little more insight from Klefbom into how the injury timeline actually unfolded, translated as "A nightmare that began with a broken finger against the New York Rangers in early December - and resulted in a horror magnificent Christmas celebration." This sounds amazing; can someone tell me how I can get in on this holiday party?
It appears Klefbom had a little redness on his leg during a skate in the fall, but the team thought it was completely under control as it didn't appear to be a problem as long as he played and the skate pressed against his foot. It was only after he broke his finger during that fateful game against the Rangers and was off the ice for a week that the foot really swelled up and "became big as an orange," as Klefbom puts it, resulting in a trip to the emergency room.
There, doctors discovered Klefbom had a staph infection, and he describes the aftermath as follows:
"It can apparently be quite dangerous. I had to lie inside [as I received] the drip and antibiotics, but in the end the doctors took the decision that it was best to operate. They wanted to remove the infected skin cells and fluid from the wound. Nevertheless, it was no better and in the end they had to do a second operation as well, which they took away more infected parts."
After the wound healed, he did everything he could to get back on the ice for the last ten games of the season, but when it became clear the Oilers were no longer in playoffs contention, the team wisely determined there was no point in taking any more chances and there was nothing to gain by playing more.
All this is consistent with what we've heard from interviews Klefbom has done with Jason Gregor. The highlight for me was when he described the injury in this interview as being "a real punch in the face"; especially after such a great start to the season, it's easy to overlook how much of an emotional toll a frustrating injury like this takes on a young player.
Luckily, Klefbom's sanguine nature points to a speedy recovery, physically and emotionally. He says "the infection has healed Super, although I have a big ugly scar." He's been training with Jonas Brodin and Marcus Johansson in the offseason and is now "100% and really wants to play games."
On His Confidence
While emphasizing that of course one never wants to see their own team lose, the "markedly worse" play of the Oilers without him was the "light in the darkness for Klefbom," as his importance to the team was made more clear than ever. This quote might read as rather self-centered, but I don't see this as Klefbom taking actual joy in the Oilers losing but rather looking for any positives he can find in a really tough situation. For someone who is not able to contribute and is watching their team fall deeper and deeper in the standings, the only bright spot may be recognizing the difference he is able to make when healthy.
"It was very flattering when you read the media and fans write that 'now we see Klefbom's greatness.'" he explained. "There were even some who thought I [was] needed more than McDavid, who was injured at the same time. It is clear that it gave my ego a boost."
While one really wouldn't think a 23-year old millionaire hockey player with enviable abdominal muscles would need such an ego boost, suffering through a staph infection is truly a rough ordeal. It's human nature to feel this way, and Klefbom is simply more honest and direct about it than most, though apparently he still felt the need to issue a clarification:
Klefbom: "I would never compare myself with McDavid. I was just flattered when I read that some guys were missing me more than him" #Oilers— Ola Winther (@OlaWinther) July 31, 2016
On Adam Larsson
Between 1901 and 1904, Pablo Picasso had his Blue Period. For the span of a few hours on July 25, 2015, the Edmonton Oilers experienced what will become known as their Hot Pink period at the Oil Country Championship Celebrity Pro-Am. On the course that day, a few Oilers emerged from offseason hibernation to practice their swing and show the world that hot pink polo shirts look good on a very marginal percentage of the general population.
This was also the first time Oilers fans and media got to see Adam Larsson as an Oiler, and what was apparent from the start is he's used to this many microphones and humans being in his vicinity all at once. Larsson was either a bit overwhelmed or just a remarkably slow talker, with many long pauses and not yet possessing the affable charm of an Oscar Klefbom or precocious gravity of a Connor McDavid to masterfully absorb and deflect the attention thrown at him. Of course, he was asked about this increased level of media attention, and replied that he's "not a big social media or newspaper guy" and seemed to extremely hesitatingly embrace the heightened level of interest he now found himself at the center of.
"We're not used to having this much media or that big of a fanbase in Jersey but…it's going to be fun. It's going to be fun…I think," he said, slowly.
Larsson was also asked how well he knows Oscar Klefbom, at which I held my breath and waited to hear something along the lines of, "Oscar is my best friend and we often share the latest hairstyling tips over a meal of meatballs and pickled herring."
Instead, much to our collective sadness, Larsson barely acknowledged anything beyond a passing acquaintance from having played together on national teams.
But wait-- quotes from the Hockey Sverige interview suggests Oscar has made the first move to advance the Larsbom bromance (it will be a thing, everyone).
"I talked to Adam (Larsson), who is now in Edmonton," Klefbom said. "He'll check the apartment in the same building as I live, so it may be that we become neighbors. It would be perfect - because then we can go together to practices and games."
'I also think Adam gets a real breakthrough this year and hopefully I get the chance to play with him and form some chemistry," continued Klefbom.
Is it October yet, guys? How about now?
On Taylor Hall
Here comes the part that got the most attention.
Twitter and news-starved media outlets had a field day with Klefbom's quote, which was interpreted as a jab at Hall. Here is the full quote, with some more context:
"At the same time, I understand the reactions. Taylor has been our best player in recent years, but it's also hard to tell what he has contributed. He never played his best games against the tougher teams, [when] we really needed it. However, he was fantastic when we met the little inferior teams."
You can decide for yourself what he is trying to say here, but I personally don't find it particularly newsworthy. As David Staples pointed out, Klefbom and McDavid actually fare worse against higher-performing teams than Hall, and Klefbom even issued a clarification, saying:
First and foremost Klefbom said: "All of our key players underperformed, including myself. Not only Taylor Hall".. (2/3) #Oilers— Ola Winther (@OlaWinther) July 31, 2016
Another takeaway from the interview is the fact that Klefbom seemed to view the trade as a win, noting the glutton of talented forwards on the team compared to the relative dearth of steady defensemen.
Here's another great translated quote: "Now it is simply up to other promising forwards McDavid and Draisaitl to tap-dance up and prove themselves even more. It will be exciting to see."
As you mull over the odd mental image of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl tap-dancing while Oscar Klefbom claps in the audience, I'll make a note that the article concluded, in typical Oilers fashion, with cautious optimism:
"If we can also get to have McDavid healthy all season and all the other rises a notch, I think this will be really good, concludes Vermlander - which itself will be one of the most important pieces in the Oilers lagpussel."
The most important part of that sentence, obviously, is the emergence of a wonderful new word in our shared vocabulary-- the "Oilers lagpussel." Now, you may ask, what is a lagpussel? Some sleuthing revealed lagpussel (which was apparently too sophisticated for Google Translate to process) to be the Swedish word for "jigsaw puzzle," and it sounds sweetly Scandinavian when repeated to oneself, as I did way more times than necessary today.
I thank Oscar for providing his candid thoughts on the Oilers lagpussel and giving fans some hockey-related news to occupy ourselves with until the lagpussel emerges in the flesh.
Bonus Offseason Update: Zack Kassian's Brother
I have to call out one particular interview from the Pro Am tournament that really stood out.
Instead of showing up for the tournament, Zack Kassian sent his clean-cut, professional brother, who likely works as a mid-level branch manager of an RBC in rural Alberta, to golf in his place. How do we know this? He has a full set of teeth, no beard, and looks like someone who would actually own the pink polo he's wearing. I know what you're trying to pull here, Zack, but as a longtime Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen fan, I've seen Switching Goals and see right through your silly little scheme. Nice try.
His brother also said some really heartwarming things, with an effervescent joy and optimism that was refreshing to hear. We learned that Zack got a Harley, is spending his summer in Santa Monica, and is truly so excited about playing in Edmonton next season. He talks about wanting Edmonton to be his last stop and wanting to sign long-term, and for the first time, coming into camp this season taking his job very seriously.
"I feel like I'm 19, playing for the Windsor Spitfires again. The love for hockey is back; I sleep, eat, and breathe hockey now, working out, very excited to get this opportunity to get the ball rolling again," said Zack's brother.
This positive outlook extends beyond the individual and to the team, as well, as he reminded everyone not just how good the team has gotten over the summer with the additions of Lucic, Larsson, and Puljujarvi, but how much tougher a team the Oilers are to play against now. With a lineup featuring the likes of Lucic, Maroon, Kassian, Hendricks, and Nurse all at once, Zack's banker brother summed it up best, remarking, "It's a great year to be an Edmonton Oiler."