The lockout may prevent star players from competing in the NHL, but it does not keep the best hockey players in the league from competing at a high level.
There are many leagues that allow players the chance to compete in Europe and more than 130 players are taking advantage of that opportunity.
The best of those leagues is the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia. NHL players can go to Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany or other European countries to play the game, but it is clear that the best players compete in the KHL.
That league also pays the highest salaries. NHL superstar Alex Ovechkin is playing in Moscow and he is earning just under $6 million this season. That's about 65 percent of the $9 million he would be earning in the NHL (source: Slava Malamud of Sport-Express).
Ovechkin has said that if NHL salaries get slashed as a result of the lockout, he would consider staying in Russia on a permanent basis.
“If our salaries get slashed, I’ll have to think about whether to return to NHL,” Ovechkin said to Russian journalist Slava Malamud of Sport-Express. “I won’t rule out staying in Russia past this season.”
However, it seems unlikely that a majority of the Russian players who compete in the NHL would go back to their homeland to play on a more permanent basis, unless the two leagues basically swapped salary structures.
Salaries are significantly higher in the NHL than the KHL and other European leagues, and even though the NHL would like to pay less in salary to its players, it seems unlikely that when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is finally reached with the NHLPA that it would put the KHL on par with the NHL.
Some players might be enticed to stay home, but it might be for other factors than salary. Some players would rather stay at home because of the comfort factor, but those who want the best competition and the highest salaries will still be drawn to the NHL.
Does that mean it will always remain in the NHL's favor? Certainly not. The KHL may sense an opportunity to raise its status further by offering better salaries and creating a more even landscape between the two leagues.
Does the NHL open itself up to losing some of its status and some of its best players when it locks its players out? No doubt.
Some Russian players may ask for more money to leave their home country to come and play in the NHL as the KHL pays its players increased salaries.
This seems more likely in future years than it does at this point, but it is within the realm of possibility.