NHL Lockout: 3 Ways the Philadelphia Flyers Can Stay Sharp During Negotiations
A little more than a week into yet another NHL lockout and precious little has changed.
It has been more than a week since the powers that be at both the NHL and NHLPA met and it doesn't appear that serious CBA talks are expected any time soon.
September's preseason games have been cancelled. Players across the league have been assigned to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliates or have bolted overseas.
Fans across the NHL landscape are left to wonder when their favorite players will return to action.
Players must find ways to stay in game-ready shape as they're expected to be ready to return to duty at a moment's notice. That being said, here are the 3 best ways for the Flyers to stay sharp during the lockout.
Play in the KHL
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The best way for the current crop of Flyers to stay sharp during the NHL lockout is to play in the next-best league.
Widely regarded as the world's second-best league, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) offered a landing area for many NHL players during the last lockout and is already offering the same sort of outlet this time around.
During the first week of the most recent work stoppage, nearly 60 current NHLers had either signed or verbally committed to a KHL club. That list includes Flyers' forwards Ruslan Fedotenko and Jakub Voracek along with goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Fedotenko was the first to bolt, landing with HC Donbass on the first day of the lockout. Voracek agreed to join HC Lev Praha, the KHL's new franchise based in Prague, while Bryzgalov will join CSKA Moscow along with perennial All-Star Pavel Datsyuk.
And it's that which makes the KHL such a tremendous option for NHL players looking to stay sharp. It's where the best players in the game are all going.
If the current players can't compete against one another in the NHL, then the next best alternative is to compete against as many of them as they can in another league.
Along with the four names already mentioned, NHL standouts Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar have all joined the KHL ranks as well.
Play in the AHL
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While a number of NHL stars, including three Flyers, have opted for the KHL during the lockout, there are a number of players across the league who have simply been told where to go.
Just as the NHL was preparing to lock out the players, the Flyers were taking steps to ensure their youngest had a place to play by sending Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and others to the Adirondack Phantoms of the American Hockey League (AHL).
The AHL, the stepping stone to the NHL, is the logical destination for tomorrow's stars.
Studs like Schenn and Couturier will receive top-line minutes during their stint in the AHL and will be the first players over the boards during both the power play and penalty kill. It's a tremendous opportunity for Philly's future leaders to continue to fine tune all aspects of their game. While they won't be called upon to log huge power play or PK minutes when the lockout ends, the time will eventually come when that's precisely what they'll be doing.
And like Voracek, Fedotenko, Bryzgalov and the other NHLers headed to the KHL, players like Schenn and Couturier will continue to compete against NHL-caliber competition as a host of fellow youngsters have been designated to their respective AHL squads.
Jeff Skinner (Carolina Hurricanes) will join the Charlotte Checkers. Edmonton's Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will skate for the Oklahoma City Barons. New Jersey's playoff hero Adam Henrique will suit up for the Albany Devils.
It won't quite be the man's league that the NHL or KHL will be in the months to come, but it's as good a method for young players to stay sharp as any.
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It may sound a bit absurd, but one of the best ways for some NHLers to stay sharp during the lockout is to relax.
Don't think too much about hockey. Certainly don't think too much about the current lockout.
Maintain a personal, regimented workout routine and find time to hit the ice when possible but don't stress over finding a temporary team to latch onto.
Now this obviously isn't the desired route for all players. Youngsters like Schenn and Couturier need to continue to hone their skills. Europeans like Voracek and Bryzgalov can use this as an opportunity to play closer to home.
But for seasoned North American veterans like Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Max Talbot and Braydon Coburn, what's wrong with taking a few months to coordinate your own offseason schedule?
Sure, there might be some initial rust when the lockout comes to an end, but imagine how eager, hungry and motivated those players would be after several months of unorganized, uncompetitive hockey?
It's not as if players like Briere or Hartnell need to work on systems or defensive responsibilities during the lockout after 14 and 11 years respectively in the NHL.
Players like that will be ready when the time comes. Whenever that time is.
The 82-game NHL regular season is a grind and a deviation from that isn't the worst thing for many players.
It may sound a bit antithetical but allowing players to lose focus for a little while might just be the best way for them to stay sharp.