Last Sunday, the NHL officially went into a lockout with players and team owners unable to come to a collective bargaining agreement. This not only means that players will not have a league to play in, it also means that players cannot use team facilities—a reality that could really hurt some players’ future performances.
Waves of players have already headed overseas to play in European leagues. According to the New York Times, Russian star Evgeni Malkin and veteran Sergei Gonchar, among many others, have already signed contracts with the KHL in Russia. There, they will keep in shape during the lockout under contracts that can be terminated at any time.
Germany’s Elite League is also getting attention from agents, says the Toronto Sun. The general manager of the Berlin Eisbaeren (Polar Bears), Peter Lee, has been contacted by the agents of more than 30 players for contract deals.
Younger, less experienced NHL players will be sent to the AHL to stay in shape. The minors will keep the players' skates moving, but the competition in the minors is hardly comparable to that of the NHL.
Locking the players out of team facilities is a tactic the owners are using to pressure the players into submission. However, with the abundance of options outside of the U.S., the players can sidestep this pressure—the lockout will have to be solved by both sides coming to terms.
The shortened season that could ensue, if there is a season at all, will be tough on all players who have to get back into playing shape midway through the season. Certain players will have an easier time adjusting and other players will never adjust to the abnormal circumstances at all.
Here are five players with the most to lose from the extended lockout.
The top free agent of the 2012 offseason, Zach Parise, who has spent his entire seven-year NHL career with the New Jersey Devils, is expected to rejuvenate his hometown team, the Minnesota Wild. With the lockout preventing him from practicing and working out with his team, Parise has his work cut out for him.
If there is one thing that Parise and the Wild need right now it is the opportunity to practice together. The Wild need to see how Parise is going to fit into the lineup and Parise needs to grow comfortable with the type of hockey the Wild play.
According to the Star Tribune, Parise has already started practicing at a St. Louis Park ice rink with 40 other locked out NHL players. While it is assuring to see that Parise is doing what he can to stay in shape, a no-contact scrimmage with other NHL players is hardly enough to keep any player in fighting form.
Parise’s job of reviving a lagging NHL team just got a lot harder with the lockout. If Parise and the Wild do not shine in their first season back, the team could lose a lot of the support from Minnesota fans still excited about their new poster boy.
The first overall draft pick and Sarnia Sting sensation, Nail Yakupov, is surely having a tough time during, what is supposed to be, his first year in the NHL. It is hard enough for a promising rookie to perform during his first year in the NHL—it is even harder with a lockout.
Yakupov not only needs team facilities to stay in shape, he also needs the wisdom and advice of coaches and his teammates. Not being able to practice and learn from other NHL players and personnel is crippling for Yakupov, who is still in the early stages of his career.
The lockout is not his only problem.
According to Yahoo, Yakupov wants to follow Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin to the KHL, but the International Ice Hockey Federation will not relinquish his transfer card—preventing the rookie from participating.
To say Yakupov is having a rocky first season is an understatement.
Chris Kreider, whose NHL debut took place during the New York Rangers playoff run, proved that he is ready for a spot in the Rangers' lineup. Having yet to play a regular season NHL game, Kreider's rookie season technically would be this year—providing there is a season for him to play in.
Kreider is a big forward with an even bigger shot. The Massachusetts native could easily work his way up to being a top-six forward for the Rangers.
Much like Nail Yakupov, Kreider is losing a lot from not being able to practice and workout with his teammates. The knowledge and experience that the lockout deprives them of is essential for their journey to becoming full-time NHL players.
Though nothing is official, it is likely that Kreider will spend time in the AHL until the lockout is resolved. This should keep Kreider in shape, but it is not the level of play that Kreider can learn from at this point.
Kreider's ushering into the NHL has already been a rocky one and the lockout is not doing him any favors.
According to ESPN, New Jersey Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk is joining Russian superstars Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin in the KHL. While the KHL has a somewhat sufficient level of competition to keep Kovalchuk in shape, this change can be bad for more reasons than one.
With the departure of former Devil Zach Parise, Kovalchuk is the favorite to receive the “C”. With experience as the former captain of the Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk is the next best candidate.
As the likely Devils captain, Kovalchuk spending time in Russia away from his fellow teammates, could isolate the Russian sniper and put a wrench between him and his team. Kovalchuk should be practicing with his teammates during the offseason.
Prior to joining the Devils, Kovalchuk used to be a lone-wolf player who shot before he passed. The Devils have transformed him from the franchise superstar to the team player he is today.
As a top-five point leader in the NHL (37 G, 46 A, 83 PTS), Kovalchuk will surely be one of the best players in Russia—a reality that could go to Kovy’s head and revert him into his former self.
Philadelphia Flyers’ starter Ilya Bryzgalov was crucified by the Philadelphia media and fans for his poor performance during the 2012 season. If the lockout keeps Mr. Universe out of shape, the Russian goaltender could have a repeat performance and be run out of Philly.
According to a CBS blog, Bryzgalov is playing for KHL’s CSKA Moscow, owned by NHL legend Sergei Fedorov. Bryzgalov will not have much easier of a time in the KHL as he still has to deal with Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and more—all of whom will have much clearer shots on Bryzgalov than they would normally have in a more competitive NHL game.
On the upside, Bryzgalov could gain confidence playing in his home country with a slightly lower level of competition. This move could ensure that a more confident Bryzgalov returns to the Flyers ready to play.
Bryzgalov is surely hoping for the latter—Mr. Universe can only endure so much scrutiny two seasons in a row.