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NHL Players Prepare to Head to Europe as Lockout Seems Imminent

It’s highly suspected that Rick Nash will play for Davos in Switzerland. Joe Thorton, who headed overseas with Nash during the last lockout, would most likely go with him this time, too. And it’s been speculated that Nikita Kikitin, Fedor Tyutin, and Artem Anisimov — all players for the Columbus Blue Jackets — would go to the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia should the NHL lock the doors.

But, is the matter really so simple? When NHL players can’t play in the U.S. and Canada, can they really just pack their bags and start calling a European team home?

Nope, it doesn’t work like that, no matter how much it seemed like it did last time we were in this situation. Yes, during the lockout eight years ago, players did easily pick up their stick and head over to European teams. And those teams seemed not only happy, but overly eager to have them. The chances are though, that things will not go so smoothly for the players this time.

One of the problems is that during the 2004 — 2005 NHL non-season, the European teams had lots of spots open for NHL players to come. And having world-renowned players play for them was a huge boon, so they were more than encouraging of players making the move. This time though, European teams have already filled up for the next season, and there’s not a lot of room for those in the NHL.

The restrictions on those European teams don’t help the NHL players either. Different leagues operate differently in Europe, but the maximum for imported players only ranges from 2 — 7 per team. This certainly doesn’t leave a lot of room for the hundreds of players that could be heading over there.

But there’s another factor that will come into play this time that wasn’t present eight years ago. That’s the fact that things don’t seem so bitter between the NHLPA and the NHL this time. In 2004, things were very bad and it was pretty clear from the get-go that an entire season would be lost.

However, things aren’t so cut and dry this time. Negotiations are on-going and there is very little, if any, of the mud-slinging that we saw between Bettman and Goodenow last time. All of this adds up to uncertainty on the part of the European teams. The last thing they want is to recruit a bunch of new players that are only going to leave mid-season.

Players may already be looking to go to Europe, but it’s clear that those leagues overseas aren’t nearly as eager this time to accept them. Will this put more pressure on the NHLPA to accept the NHL’s deal? Or will they still stand by their proposal, which is much more logical than the NHL’s, despite the fact that Europe may not be as desirable this time around?

Only time will tell. And unfortunately for all those involved, that time is running short.

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