NHL Lockout: The 6 Players Most Likely to Now Sign in Europe
Clearly, Anaheim Duck Bobby Ryan will not be appearing on the list, in the wake of his recent, somewhat-boneheaded comments (via tsn.ca):
“I’m going to continue to skate with the guys. I think it’s important to stay here and be part of the solution and not just run from it… I’m going to handle things the way I think things should be handled.”
Obviously, Ryan’s comments (for which he's apologized) don’t reflect the thoughts and opinions of all National Hockey League Players’ Association members, with well over 100 current NHLers playing overseas as of the writing of this article.
With the league opting to cancel two weeks’ worth of games, many more might follow their lead as it becomes clear the NHL is prepared to see this thing through. Of course, the loss of two weeks’ pay won’t be what sparks a mass exodus. It will be the mindset that two weeks can suddenly turn into a month, then two, and so on and so forth.
The season was supposed to start this coming Thursday, and it now won’t. This work stoppage is about to get more real for a lot more people and nothing hits closer to home like a missed paycheck. With that said, here are the six players most likely to now sign in Europe:
6) Saku Koivu
No official word on whether fellow Anaheim Duck Saku Koivu is one of the guys Ryan is referring to in his quote (see previous slide), but logic dictates the age gap (Ryan is 25, Koivu will be 38) is enough for one to assume the two aren’t best buddies.
There likely aren’t daggers shooting through each of their eyes when they're in the same room together or anything like that, but that 13-year difference is enough for one to think that while Ryan is playing Madden NFL 13 on his PlayStation 3 (or what have you), Koivu’s more likely to be asking, “Madden? The former New Jersey Devil?”
In any case, taking into account a wide range of factors, Koivu is likely to at least consider going back to his native Finland and specifically to his hometown, Turku:
1) He played there during the last lockout
2) He played there prior to joining the Montreal Canadiens back in 1995-96
3) He played junior hockey there
4) He presumably played Pee-Wee hockey there (are you sensing a trend develop?)
Furthermore, while Koivu is getting up in age, he’s not as old as say teammate Teemu Selanne, who, at 42, might be more seriously contemplating retirement. One can argue Koivu has at least two years left in him and might decide to stay sharp rather than stay in North America.
5) Vincent Lecavalier
With a salary of $10 million, Tampa Bay Lightning (fading) superstar Vincent Lecavalier will be losing a lot of money this season. Not just that, but he is the highest-paid NHLer currently not playing overseas who doesn’t have a signing bonus on which to fall back.
Nashville Predator Shea Weber? He will be making at least $13 million this year, regardless of what happens.
New York Ranger Brad Richards? Eight million.
Buffalo Sabre Tyler Myers? Ten million.
Minnesota Wild…men(?) (Wildlings?)… Zach Parise and Ryan Suter? Ten million apiece.
New Jersey Devil llya Kovalchuk? He would be in the same boat as Lecavalier, were it not for the fact that he hopped on one on his way back to Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League to play for SKA St. Petersburg a few weeks ago now.
Lecavalier is next on the list of the highest-paid NHLers, with Pittsburgh Penguin Evgeni Malkin, Washington Capital Alexander Ovechkin, Carolina Hurricane Eric Staal, Los Angeles King Mike Richards, and Ottawa Senator Jason Spezza right below him on the salary scale.
Each of those players is either already overseas, likely to stay at home and tend to the family farm back in Thunder Bay, or nursing a Stanley Cup hangover.
As for Lecavalier? He last won the Cup back in 2004, so he’s got no such hangover about which to worry (nor any excuses for his lackluster play over the last few years). He’s also from Ile Bizard, a borough of Montreal, a city famous for its strip clubs and not its farmland.
As such, consider Lecavalier likely to be on one of the next planes out of Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
In fact, the only reason he isn't higher on this list is because during the last lockout the culture shock was too great for him to bear, becoming just a half-point-per-game player with Kazan Ak-Bars of the KHL. And that was when his career was on the upswing, for your information.
4) Wojtek Wolski
When Wojtek Wolski signed a one-year deal with the Washington Capitals, it was contingent on the hockey being played this year. Now that it isn't, Wolski has to turn to plan "B" of his playbook which, unfortunately, is largely comprised of ways to avoid work…and on an actual BlackBerry PlayBook.
Apparently, Wolski’s bad life decisions and judgment extend to his life outside hockey.
Wolski may have been poised to make a mere $600,000 this year, but he still has the most to lose of anyone else on this list. He can ill afford to take this lockout off and must instead take the opportunity to show NHL teams he still has some semblance of a game left, because there’s no guarantee the Capitals will take him back if this lockout were to last past this season.
3) Jochen Hecht
Former Buffalo Sabre Jochen Hecht had not yet signed a contract prior to the players being locked out, which is clearly an indication that few teams were clamoring for his services. Apparently, there just isn't a market these days for eight-point scorers with several concussions under their belts. Who knew?
In any case, the point is that Hecht was good candidate to play in Europe and end his career there before the lockout even became a probability. Already contemplating an offer to play for the Mannheim Eagles of the Deutsch Eishockey Liga (via Tonawanda News.com), the chances are good he realizes he can’t afford to turn away sure things anymore.
2) Eric Fehr
Needless to say, Eric Fehr had a disappointing season. He managed an unbelievable two goals and one assist with the Winnipeg Jets. His performance was a far cry from the 20-goal season he delivered just two years ago as a Washington Capital.
As such, he’s in a very similar position as the previous two names on this list. Both he and Wolski weren't given qualifying offers last summer, making both unrestricted free agents.
The big difference is that Fehr didn’t manage to sign elsewhere (perhaps teams have been taught to instinctually avoid all Fehrs like the plague). Like Hecht, Europe may be his only option, lockout or no.
1) Henrik Lundqvist
Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Henrik Lundqvist seems on the verge of signing with Frolunda Gothenburg of the Swedish Eliserien (via the New York Times Slap Shot blog), which is where he played in 2004-2005 (along with Dallas Star Loui Eriksson, who may also be on his way there, via Eurosport.com), before he even caught on with the New York Rangers.
The team has reportedly put together the financing to protect the remaining term on Lundqvist’s Rangers contract (via Goteborgs-Posten), as all NHL-paid policies are suspended during the lockout. Of course, this is by no means a guarantee that Lundqvist will sign there or anywhere, but a sign that he may in due time.
Considering Lundqvist has gone on record as saying he misses the “intensity” of actual hockey and is not the biggest fan of practicing to pass the time during the lockout (via sportsnet.ca), it’s logical to assume that it is only a matter of time before he scratches his itch, and we’re not talking about the jock variety...although this lockout is nearly as annoying.