Following the recent failure of CBA negotiations between the NHL and its players’ association, this year’s preseason games through September 30 have been cancelled. The league officially announced its decision on Wednesday, September 19, effectively erasing a total of 60 games from the schedule, with more cancellations expected if a new collective bargaining agreement cannot be reached soon.
The current NHL lockout began after the previous CBA expired at midnight on Saturday, September 15. The league and team owners were not able to reach an agreement with the players at their last meeting on September 12, and the two parties are at an impasse in regards to players’ compensation from hockey-related revenue (HRR).
With a league-imposed lockout once again keeping players off the ice, many pros are skating over to European leagues. During a lockout in 2004-05 that shut down the entire season, almost 400 players — more than half of the entire NHL roster — made the switch to foreign leagues. According to ESPN‘s Scott Burnside, many players are making the change earlier this time than in the previous lockout, raising concerns that some players may feel that negotiations could drag on for some time.
To date, at least eleven of the NHL’s stars have reportedly made the transfer to European leagues since the lockout began less than a week ago. Alexander Ovechkin (Capitals), Ilya Kovalchuk (Devils), Evgeni Malkin (Penguins), and Sergei Gonchar (Senators) will play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. Rick Nash (Rangers), Jason Spezza (Senators), Mark Streit (Islanders), and Joe Thornton (Sharks) have all made deals with leagues in Switzerland. Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings will play in a Swedish league. Christian Ehroff from the Buffalo Sabres will go to Germany, and Jaromir Jagr, right wing for the Dallas Stars, will play in the Czech Republic.
These players undoubtedly have a multitude of reasons for making the change to European leagues in the midst of another lockout. Regardless of the cause, financial or otherwise, if the NHL and its players’ association cannot come to a decent agreement soon, teams in those foreign leagues could be flooded with American players. Playing in these European leagues offers NHL players a unique opportunity to further hone their skills, according to one of ESPN‘s Eastern Conference scouts. Their source told ESPN that “there’s a lot more focus on skilled hockey in those countries,” and American players may “come back with a few more tricks in their pocket.”
Billy Daly, NHL Deputy Commissioner, and negotiator for the NHLPA, Steve Fehr, have been in communication, according to ESPN, but formal talks between the two groups have not resumed since the lockout began. More preseason cancellations may soon follow if an agreement is not reached, including the faceoff between the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils at Brooklyn’s new Barclays Center on October 2. Regular season games are scheduled to begin on October 11, but at this point the entire season could be in jeopardy.