NHL players going overseas to play hockey during the lockout was a mistake, and it has hurt the league in several different ways.
Since there is minimal progress being made during the current work stoppage, we may see even more players start to sign with teams in European leagues over the next week or so.
Let's look at why NHL players playing in Europe is a bad idea from the league's perspective.
There's no question that teams are fearful of players getting hurt while playing overseas during the lockout.
We have already seen a few notable NHLers suffer injuries overseas, including New Jersey Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov (via Tom Gulitti of The Record) and Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek (via Tim Panaccio of CSNPhilly.com).
Volchenkov's agent, Jay Grossman, said Volchenkov broke "a small bone" near the arch of his foot, below the ankle. Not actually the ankle.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) October 22, 2012
Jakub Voracek's agent, Petr Svoboda, said this morning his client will not need to weara knee brace when he returns to the ice.— Tim Panaccio (@tpanotchCSN) October 23, 2012
Although there aren't many details on the situation, Boston Bruins fans are already nervous after learning that young goaltender Tuukka Rask may have a groin injury (via Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com)
Even worse news: @jedli indicates that Tuukka Rask's injury appears to be a groin. A groin/abdomen problem wiped him out at end of last year— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) October 23, 2012
If Rask's injury is serious, the Bruins' chances of winning the Stanley Cup could drop dramatically, which is the last thing the league wants with one of its marquee franchises.
Even if there is a 2012-13 season, having teams weakened because players picked up injuries playing overseas during the lockout will hurt the quality of the NHL's product. As the work stoppage continues, this concern is only going to get bigger for the league.
It's unfortunate because the league and its players might have been able to prevent some of these injuries if they finalized a new CBA in time to avoid a lockout.
NHL Players Could Remain Overseas Even When Lockout Ends
The players are adamant about earning the full value of the contracts that they signed under the previous CBA. Some of them are actually telling reporters that there's a possibility they might not return to the NHL if the next agreement does not meet this demand.
New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk made the following comments to RT.com this week.
“What we are offered now isn’t serious,” he said. “Alex Ovechkin and I agree on this. I already discussed this matter with him as well as with Evgeny Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov. We’ll wait for other proposals. In the meantime, we are all happy here [in the KHL]. If the conditions in the NHL will be unclear, many guys will think twice whether to return there or not.”
These comments from Kovalchuk are a major PR issue for the league because fans don't want to hear that their favorite players might not return to the NHL if their union's demands in labor negotiations aren't met.
Even if the chances that players actually refuse to return to the NHL are slim (as Chris Johnston of The Canadian Press helps explain), it's still something the league shouldn't have to deal with, especially when huge stars of popular teams could be involved.
Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Ovechkin have both threatened to stay in KHL despite having a total of 22 years/$176 million left on NHL deals.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) October 23, 2012
Having these stars not come back would be devastating to several franchises, especially in Washington D.C. where Alexander Ovechkin is the primary reason why the nation's capital has seen an increase of hockey fans in the last seven years.
There are so many kids who wear Ovechkin jerseys right now who didn't care about the Capitals before he got there. The impact that these superstars have on their fanbase is incredible, and losing that would significantly hurt their teams.
Many NHL Fans in North America Don't Want to or Can't Watch Overseas Games
When many NHL fans in North America see their favorite players playing for overseas leagues such as the KHL, it further increases their level of frustration.
There aren't many ways to watch these overseas games, especially on television, and it also doesn't help that a lot of these games are played during the afternoon hours in the United States and Canada when many people are still at work.
Hockey fans in North America don't care how well teams in overseas leagues are doing, so watching their favorite players participate in games that are meaningless to them is a waste of their time. If Ovechkin leads Dynamo Moscow to a KHL championship, I doubt many Capitals fans will care very much.
The Lockout Could Impact Overseas Prospects Coming to the NHL
When established players like Ovechkin and Kovalchuk criticize the NHL and commissioner Gary Bettman, young players overseas might be more willing to stay in leagues such as the KHL a little longer rather than come to North America right away.
One example of a great young player currently choosing to stay in Russia instead of making his debut in the NHL is top Washington Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, who Capitals fans are very excited to watch because of his enormous offensive potential.
Kuznetsov is expected to be a big part of Washington's future, but if one of his teammates like Ovechkin keeps criticizing the NHL, is the 20-year-old forward going to be willing to join the Capitals in the near future?
The NHL in no way benefits from veteran players making comments about how the league is unfair and not willing to honor contracts. This doesn't make the league very attractive to top young players who may be looking to take their talents to North America soon.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.
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