NHL Lockout 2012: League Could Be in Danger of Losing Key Superstars

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 21:  Ilya Kovalchuk #17 of the New Jersey Devils talks to a linesman Brian Murphy #93 in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 21, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hockey fans are already in danger of losing a full slate of games in 2012-13, and after that the possibility of losing the season altogether. But that's not all they stand to lose, as several superstars may simply choose to stay overseas if their contracts are altered in any new collective bargaining agreement.

One such player is Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils, and he's not alone.

From Russia Today:

"It's the same old offer, but in different words," Kovalchuk told Sportbox.ru. "The people, who are versed in the matter, had no problem seeing this. Right now the NHL has very bad media and they want to fix it. It's too bad that there's no dialogue at the moment. Let's hope the club bosses will finally decide to meet the demands of the players. But I don't think that the lockout would end anytime soon."

"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."

And so the plot thickens.

Any sport is driven by superstars, and players like Ovechkin and Malkin are as big as they get—save for the NHL's poster boy, Sidney Crosby—and would cost the league a huge marketing hit if they didn't return. 

It's possible that this is the latest negotiating tactic by the players. Let's see how the league reacts if they lose a few of their cash cows. Let's see if they don't recognize the seriousness of the Union's resolve if important players simply threaten to leave the league.

It's also possible—and hence an even scarier proposition for the league, at least in my opinion—that these players came to this conclusion on their own and aren't making idle threats. 

Frankly, I don't blame the players. They signed a contract with these owners, a legal requirement that agreed-upon sums be paid to them. I wouldn't want money that was contractually promised to me pulled off from under my feet either.

This is going to remain a crucial point of these negotiations, along with each side coming to a shared agreement of what a 50-50 split of hockey-related revenues actually mean. The former seems to be the biggest issue in the minds of the players, while the latter is tasked to Donald Fehr and the NHLPA's leadership.

In the meantime, Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Malkin and Co. would like you to know they're quite happy in the KHL. Heck, they'd be happy to stay. And the longer these negotiations play out, the more likely it seems that will be exactly what happens.


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