The SHL (or Swedish Hockey League, Swedish: Svenska hockeyligan) is the highest division in the Swedish ice hockey system. The league currently consists of 14 teams. The league was founded in 1975, and while Swedish ice hockey champions have been crowned through various formats since 1922, the title, as well as the Le Mat Trophy, have been awarded to the winner of the SHL playoffs since the league's inaugural 1975–76 season.
As of 2010–11, the SHL was the world's most evenly matched professional ice hockey league. During the 2011–12 season, the SHL was the most well attended ice hockey league in Europe, averaging 6,385 spectators per game, however in 2013–14, the SHL was third best in Europe, with an attendance average of 5,978. SHL was the second most popular sports team league within Sweden, after the football league Allsvenskan , which in the 2013 season had an average attendance of 7.627.
The league was founded in 1975 as Elitserien (in English often called the Swedish Elite League or SEL), and initially featured 10 teams, though this was expanded to 12 for the 1987–88 season. The league was renamed the SHL in 2013, and in 2014, a number of format changes were announced, including an expansion to 14 teams to be finalized prior to the 2015–16 season, and a new format for promotion from and relegation to HockeyAllsvenskan, the second tier league.
The Swedish Ice Hockey Championship was awarded for the first time in 1922, only two years after ice hockey was introduced in Sweden by the American film director Raoul Le Mat. At this point, the Swedish Championships were held as a separate tournament. It wasn't until the 1952–53 season that the championship was awarded to the winner of the top-tier hockey league, which at the time was Division I.
The inaugural Elitserien season began on 5 October 1975, with the league consisting of 10 teams, each playing a regular season consisting of 36 games. There has been extensive discussion about the number of teams in the SHL. The league has had 12 teams since an expansion from 10 teams in 1987, however, there has been general agreement among hockey experts that the league needs to be expanded by at least two more teams. (The second tier league HockeyAllsvenskan currently has 14 teams.) They mean that, apart from just the economic situation for some of the clubs, the competition from HockeyAllsvenskan has shown that more teams are needed in the top-tier league SHL. On 13 March 2014, the SHL and HockeyAllsvenskan announced that the SHL will be expanded to 14 teams, starting in the 2015–16 season. To make this change happen, at least two HockeyAllsvenskan teams will be promoted to the SHL in the 2014–15 season.
In 2009, Håkan Loob, the general manager of Färjestad BK, sent a letter to Alexander Medvedev, the owner and president of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League, on behalf of five SHL teams – Färjestad, Frölunda, Djurgården, Linköping and HV71 – that were reportedly "interested in discussing the future of European hockey". It was believed that these five teams had intended to leave the SHL league after the 2009–10 season; they terminated their shareholders' agreements with Hockeyligan, the name at that time for the SHL's governing body. The teams also formed an interest group to investigate the possibility of forming a continental hockey league spanning several European countries. These plans were abandoned in November 2011, however, with Frölunda's chairman expressing hopes for the future of the European Trophy (which was disbanded with the formation of the Champions Hockey League in 2013).
On 17 June 2013, the league was renamed "Svenska hockeyligan", since this would allow for an easy English translation ("Swedish Hockey League") and a common abbreviation between the two languages ("SHL"), all of which was considered to be a better brand identity to invest in.
Each regular season SHL game is composed of three 20-minute periods, with an intermission of a maximum of 18 minutes between periods. If the game is tied following the 60-minute regulation time, a five-minute four-on-four sudden death overtime period is played. If a game still is tied after the overtime period, a shootout decides the game. In a shootout, the team that scores the most penalty shots out of three attempts wins the game. If the game is still tied after the first three penalty-shot rounds, the shootout continues round by round, until one team scores while the other team fails to score.
In the event of a tied game during the playoffs, additional 20-minute overtime periods are played perpetually until one team scores. Unlike in the regular season, playoff overtime periods are played five-on-five. Only one game in Sweden has ever surpassed four full overtime periods, and no SHL games have surpassed three full overtime periods. The longest SHL game was the first game of the 1997 Swedish Championship semifinals, played on 23 March 1997 between Leksands IF and Färjestad BK. 6,012 spectators saw Andreas Karlsson score the game-winning goal for Leksand after 59 minutes of overtime (almost three full overtime periods). See Longest ice hockey games in Sweden for other games.
SHL games are played on an ice hockey rink, which is rectangular ice rink with rounded corners and surrounded by a wall. It measures 30 by 60 meters (98.42 by 196.85 ft), conforming to international standards.
Counting from the formation of the SHL in 1975, Färjestad BK is the most successful team with nine Swedish Championship titles. Brynäs IF and Djurgårdens IF are tied for the second most successful team with six championship titles. Counting from 1922, when the first Swedish championships were played, Djurgårdens IF is the most successful team with sixteen championship titles, followed by Brynäs IF with thirteen, as well as Färjestad BK and IK Göta with nine.
The SHL season is divided into a regular season from late September through the beginning of March, when teams play against each other in a pre-defined schedule, and a playoffs from March to April, which is an elimination tournament where two teams play against each other to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The final remaining team is crowned the Swedish champion, or Svenska mästare in Swedish, and receives the Le Mat Trophy.
The regular season is a round-robin, where each team plays 52 games. Points are awarded for each game, where three points are awarded for a win, two points for winning in overtime or shootout, one point for losing in overtime or shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation time. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points is crowned the league champion and is awarded a prize sum of 1,000,000 SEK (approx. 150,000 USD) as a bonus. The six highest-ranked teams by points qualify directly for the playoffs. The four teams ranked 7–10 play a best-of-three series and battle for the two remaining playoff spots. The two lowest-ranked teams after the regular season have to play in the relegation and promotion series Kvalserien in order to qualify for the next season of the SHL. Before the 2013–14 season, the eight highest-ranked teams qualified for the playoffs.
If two or more teams end up tied in points, the seeds are determined by the following tiebreaker format:
- Best goal difference
- Most goals scored
- Head-to-head results between the tied teams
Starting in the 2013–14 season, the four teams ranked 7–10 in the regular season play a best-of-three series, known as Play In, and battle for the two remaining playoff spots. The 7th-ranked team faces the 10th-ranked team, and the 8th-ranked team faces the 9th-ranked team. The 7th-ranked team and the 8th-ranked team receive home-ice advantage and play two of the three games at their home venue in their series if necessary to determine a winner of the series. The winners of the two best-of-three series take the two remaining playoff spots.
The SHL playoffs is an elimination tournament, where two teams battle to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. In the first round of the playoffs, or the quarterfinals, the top seed faces the lowest-ranked winner of the two best-of-three series (eighth seed, ninth seed or tenth seed); the 2nd-ranked seed faces the other winner of the two best-of-three series; the 3rd-ranked seed faces the 6th-ranked seed; and the 4th-ranked seed faces the 5th-ranked team. In the second round, the semifinals, the teams are re-seeded, with the top remaining seed playing against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining teams pairing off. In the third round, the finals, the two remaining teams face each other. Before the 2013–14 season, the top three teams got to choose their opponents in the quarterfinals.
In each series, the higher-ranked team of the two will have home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue – the first and third, and, when necessary, the fifth and seventh games – with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue.
The two lowest ranked teams after the regular season have to play in a regulation series called Kvalserien together with four teams from the second tier league HockeyAllsvenskan. The top two teams of Kvalserien qualify for the next SHL season, while the other four are demoted to HockeyAllsvenskan.
Since 2009, the league hosts an outdoor game in the regular season in December every year. From 2009 through 2012 it was called the SEL Outdoor Classic, but since 2013 it's called the SHL Outdoor Classic due to the league name change in June 2013. The first outdoor game was played on 28 December 2009, between Frölunda HC and Färjestad BK at Ullevi. Frölunda came out on top with a 4–1 victory. 31,144 spectators saw the game, setting a new record for the largest attendance at an ice hockey league match in Sweden. The following year, Färjestad and Frölunda met again in an outdoor game, this time in Karlstad. Färjestad won the game 5–2 in front of 15,274 spectators. The 2013 outdoor game was played on 14 December 2013, between Frölunda HC and Skellefteå AIK at Gamla Ullevi. The game was promoted as "Julmatchen" (English: The Christmas game) and was won by Skellefteå 4–1 in front of 13,452 spectators.
Three players in SHL history have been awarded the Golden Puck, as ice hockey player of the year in Sweden, more than once; Anders Andersson, Leif Holmqvist and Peter Forsberg have all won it twice.
The top four point-scoring forwards for the 2015–16 season were Ryan Lasch (51 points), Patrick Thoresen and Patrik Zackrisson (both with 48 points) and Milan Gulaš (45). Nick Johnson was the top goal-scorer and thus the Håkan Loob Trophy winner, with 22 goals. The top four point-scorers on defence were Linus Hultström and Chad Billins (both with 31 points) and Nils Andersson and Jonas Junland (both with 30). The top three goaltenders by save percentage among those who played more than 40% of their team's minutes were Lars Johansson (.927), Justin Pogge (.9224), and Markus Svensson (.922).
The top five career scorers in the SHL are Fredrik Bremberg (581 points), Johan Davidsson (561), Jörgen Jönsson (535), Jan Larsson (527) and Anders Carlsson (526). The top three career goal scorers are Lars-Gunnar Pettersson (271 goals), Magnus Wernblom (266) and Håkan Loob (263). David Petrasek, Jan Sandström and Per-Åge Skrøder are the leaders in the number of SHL regular season games played, with Petrasek having played 887 games, Sandström 886 and Skrøder 856.
The winning team of the SHL playoffs is named Swedish Champions and awarded the Le Mat Trophy. There is only one trophy that is awarded to players based on their statistics during the regular season; the Håkan Loob Trophy for the goal-scoring leader.
One of the most prestigious individual awards is Guldhjälmen, which is awarded annually to the Most Valuable Player. The voting is conducted by the players in the SHL. Guldpucken is awarded annually to the ice hockey player of the year in Sweden. It is not necessarily awarded to a player in the SHL; for the 2005–06 season the award was given to Kenny Jönsson in the Swedish second-tier ice hockey league HockeyAllsvenskan. The award Årets Rookie (Rookie of the Year) is awarded annually by Svenska Spel and Svenska Hockeyligan to the best rookie player in the SHL.
Starting in 2010, an annual playoff MVP was acknowledged. The playoff MVP award was later renamed the Stefan Liv Memorial Trophy in honour of Swedish goalkeeper Stefan Liv after his death in the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster.
SHL games are aired nationally in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway, by C More. One game from each round is selected and shown on C More Sport, and simulcasted in 1080i high definition on C More Sport HD. The selected game is also aired on Mobile TV, available to Telenor customers in Sweden with 3G phones. All 330 regular season games are available on pay-per-view, via cable and satellite for C More customers, and also available via C More's streaming Internet TV. During the 2004–05 NHL lockout, SHL games were being broadcast in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet.
Sveriges Radio (SR) is the official radio broadcaster of the SHL. Each round is covered by Sportextra in SR P4 with reports from all arenas; all games are available in their entirety on SR's internet radio and to mobile phones via 3G.
Teams from the league are playable in the video games Elitserien 95 for Sega Mega Drive, Elitserien 96 for Sega Mega Drive and Elitserien 2001 for PC. They also appear in EA Sports' NHL series since NHL 2004.