In the event that the NHL regular season is delayed or cancelled there will almost certainly be a small exodus of NHL players going across the pond to play hockey in Europe. Players including Evgeni Malkin and Martin St. Louis are already making plans to go overseas if there is a work stoppage. Several star Russian players, including Malkin, still have agreements and connections with teams they used to play for in Russia. Malkin, for example, has agreed to play for his former team Metallurg Magnitigorsk on a week-by-week basis if there is a lockout.
It is safe to say that if players do make the choice to go overseas temporarily that they won't run into the issue of being stuck there like several NBA players were this past season. That being said, one can assume that the owners are being sent a clear message by the players that do head overseas. Are these players being counter-productive to the bargaining between the NHLPA and the NHL? Or are these players simply being realistic about the situation and are only guilty of trying to make plans just in case they don't get to hit the ice in North America in the second week of October?
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In my opinion, it is hard to fault players like Malkin and St. Louis for wanting to go play in Europe in the event that the season is cancelled or delayed. Not every player is going to be content with extending their offseason and collecting a smaller paycheck while they wait around for peace to be reached between the NHLPA and the NHL. Many players want to play overseas so that they don't lose any of their conditioning or because they feel like they only have so many years in their lives to play professional hockey.
St. Louis recently told the Tampa Bay Times that he was considering going to Europe because of those very reasons.
"With my age, you want to keep playing. I don't want to take a year off. If the NHL wants to shut us down, we'll go play somewhere else... You have to be patient before you go to Europe, but it's definitely an option guys will look into."
During the last NHL lockout, the 2004-05 season, 338 NHL players went overseas to play in over 19 different leagues. Of course, for every player that goes overseas to play in Europe should there be a lockout, there will be a great many European hockey players that lose their jobs at least temporarily.
Before any of you guys start worrying that the Rangers are going to lose half the roster to the KHL, something to keep in mind is that KHL teams are only allowed 5 "foreign" players on their rosters and many teams are already at their limit. Many of the Rangers veterans, including Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, and Brad Richards, played in Europe during the last lockout but that shouldn't breed too much anxiety in Ranger fans. Contracts made in situations like these are often very flexible and have clauses allowing players to return to the NHL should a lockout end and the NHL regular season begin (this was the case during the last lockout).
It is difficult to imagine that any announcements made by players, even players like Malkin and St. Louis, are going to have a radical impact on the negotiations between the NHLPA and the NHL because almost everyone involved knows that players making these plans was all but an inevitability. The players in the National Hockey League are the most gifted hockey players in the world, and if they can't play in North America because of labor disputes many of them will certainly find a way to keep playing professional hockey.
So what do you guys think? Is it counter-productive to the negotiations between the NHLPA and the NHL for players to make public statements about going to play overseas if there is no season? Is it okay that if these players do go overseas they will be taking jobs away from European hockey players? Do players have every right to announce their intent to pursue some money and a chance to keep playing the game that they love? Have at it in the comments.