To Go To Europe Or Stay At Home?

Chicken Little is right - the sky is falling, all is lost and the NHL has locked out its players for the third time in 18 years.


Okay, maybe it isn't that bad. There haven't been any regular season games lost yet (let's be honest, no one really cares about the preseason) and the players and owners have been slowly working their way closer to a deal. However, one thing that can be interpreted as a sign to bunker in for the long haul is the number of players who have signed deals in Europe.

Over 60 NHL players, ranging from the Joe Thornton and Rick Nashs of the world to our old friend Marek Zidlicky, have signed contracts in Europe as we reach Week 2 of this Lockout. It should come as no surprise that the majority of those that have already signed overseas are European natives. For many European NHL players, signing a short deal is an opportunity to play competitive hockey that can't happen now while having a rare opportunity to stay near home.

That isn't the case for North American players, who don't have the same allure for the KHL as Russian stars like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk (who all quickly signed with KHL teams) claim. Lockout deals like these are never about the money; especially true if there is a partial NHL season. Why would someone like Minnesota native Zach Parise, who is coming off a summer where he just received a $10 million bonus and got married, go halfway around the world for a month or two?

Parise, of course, is not the prototypical NHL player but his situation does raise a good point. In a shorter Lockout, the differences between playing overseas and a NHL beer league in the Twin Cities aren't much. Although they don't have the same structure that they would playing in Europe, having a majority of a team together gives it a better chance to gel earlier. The same thing is currently happening with the organization's youth in Houston and between the two make for a bright future.

At the same, however, it is a double-edged sword. Playing together is something Minnesota, which adds Parise and Ryan Suter, can use to their advantage if the NHL starts in November but the longer the Lockout goes the more playing in Europe to stay in shape makes sense. There are diminishing returns for not playing competitive games.

Another downfall of having the most competitive beer league the world has ever seen (can you even call it a beer league if there is no beer?) rather than competitive European hockey is the chance of injury. There is always the chance of an injury but no contact with NHL teams means no top-end NHL training staff; something Niklas Backstrom has already experienced. Minnesota's starting goalie, who ironically signed a European deal with HC Dinamo Minsk, re-aggravated an ankle injury Tuesday and won't go over there for the time being. The same thing can happen in Europe, though so it's a risk either way.

In the end, there are good arguments for NHL players on both sides to spend their Lockout time in Europe or at home and depends on the individual player. Not every European has an incentive to stay overseas rather than the AHL while some North Americans like Jared Spurgeon (who can't be sent to the AHL and signed a contract in Switzerland with childhood friend Tyler Ennis) need the structure playing against European teams would bring.

The longer it seems the sky is falling the more it makes sense to go overseas but for now, we'll have to wait and see if Chicken Little is right.

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