NHL Lockout: Stars Overseas

While Gary Bettman and the NHL owners sit complacently in Manhattan, fans across North America are getting restless. The NHL lockout is officially on day 40, and although talks have re-sumed between the two sides, no plans to return to official bargaining have been made.

As of now, the league has cancelled all games scheduled up to November 1, but this weekend’s conversations have been somewhat encouraging. If a deal is indeed reached within the next week, the season’s calendar could be rearranged to include 75 games or so. But that’s a big if. There are multiple steps that still need to be taken to reach an agreement – the most notable of which is actually getting the two sides to the bargaining table together. While resumption of conversations is something to be hopeful about, fans should prob-ably temper their expectations. After all, these are merely phone conversations at this point, and nothing will get done until the NHLPA and NHL actually sit down face-to-face.

On the flip side of the story, while front office personnel are at a stalemate with what they are trying to accom-plish, many players are doing just what their jobs call for: playing hockey. From former MVPs like Joe Thornton and Evgeni Malkin to fourth line grind-ers trying to find ice-time somewhere, it seems like everyone has moved away from the turmoil of the NHL to find greener pastures in Europe. Russia’s Kon-tinental Hockey League in particular has a bevy of stars, including New Jer-sey’s Ilya Kovalchuk, Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk.

Two Washington Capitals stars, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, are also in Russia, and the dynamic pair isn’t guaranteed to be coming home even if the lockout is resolved. Depending on the pay cut the players may or may not see after an agreement is reached, Back-strom and Ovechkin, who both play for Dynamo Moscow, could decide to stay in Russia to play. Indeed, a situa-tion could very well arise in which the owners get their way, slash salaries and instead of seeing Ovie, Backstrom, Malkin and the gang hop on a plane back to the States, they could see their superstars stay put 4,000 miles away in Europe.

That scenario sounds ridiculous though, right? “No way the owners risk having their main attendance-drawers spend the season in another country,” you may say. Well to a logical person, that would be ridiculous. But as the billionaire owners of the NHL have proven time and time again, logic does not always prevail. The NHL is a business first and foremost, and right now that business is booming. There are new Stanley Cup contenders each season, fresh new talent continues to flood the league after every draft and a growing fan base keeps shelling out the money to watch it all go down.

The owners are on top of the world right now, and, to them, the dubious risk of a few stars leaving the league is not enough of a deterrent to reduce their de-mands. Until the owners realize the im-plications of losing players like Ovech-kin and Backstrom, a fair deal will not be reached.

There is still time to get this season started. The owners have been frustrating to say the least, but they are communicat-ing, however little that may be. Hold out hope, hockey fans; the season isn’t lost yet.

Contact Ben Glassman at [email protected].