Get out the chains and padlocks the NHL is on lockout. Just 7 seasons of play since the last season long lockout the NHL will down tools. But what of the players in the merrygoround that is the negotiations.
This lockout could well be different from previous 2 of the Bettman era. During the 2004 lockout many players found temporary homes in Europe. The Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Russia were all popular destinations. Even the UK gained Wade Belak and Nick Boynton as both players waited the call to return to the show. Now however the KHL and the Swedish Eliteserien and AlSvenska leagues have announced the locked out players will not be automatically welcomed into their leagues.
Whilst the Swedish leagues have announced a total ban on players contracted to a NHL side the KHL as opted to impose tight controls on eligability. KHL teams will be allowed to sign upto a maximum of 3 NHL players but only 1 foreign player and players must meet any one of the following criteria:
– played no less than 150 games in the NHL in the last three seasons;
– had experience playing in the KHL;
– member of the national team of his country at one of the last two IIHF World Championships, World Junior Championships or the Olympic games;
– winner or the finalist of the Stanley Cup or the winner of one of the individual prizes awarded by the National Hockey League at the end of the season.
This means that for NHL players looking for a big check in Europe options are limited as leagues seek to protect their teams from high salaries, short benches should the lockout end mid season and to aid their national sides in an Olympic season. Other leagues have also imposed tighter restrictions on the number of import signings such as in Italy, which will also not aid the NHL’s big guns.
The exception to both of these rules is the EIHL that recently raised the import quota. The question now will be will the EIHL be more popular for the locked out players and can the EIHL afford those players.
There is no doubt that the signings of NHL players raise the profile of the UK game. The Belfast Giants are still talked about in North America for their signing of Theo Fleury and there is little doubt that a side like Belfast could afford to pay an NHL player a handsome proportion of his NHL salary. However with some teams struggling last season there is a sizeable number of teams in the EIHL that will struggle to meet any wage demands from a locked out player. There is also the risk that the dispute ends mid season leaving teams short benched and impacting upon quality.
It will be highly unlike that the league steps in to impose any restrictions although the EIHL has proven its self to be willing to change this off season and it may decide to lift the quota further.
Whilst an agreement between the NHL and the players may seem a long way off this lock out was almost inevitable. Some colomnists in North America stated earlier in the summer that the true deadline on finding an agreement will be the end of NHL preseason in early October. This may now seem a long way off occuring but NHL commissioner Gary Bettman may be just looking around for a white horse to ride in on. For teams looking to add NHL stars to their roster though October may be the time when things to start to happen. If it does happen earlier then we know an agreement is some way off.
The chances are if the lockout extends beyond the start of the NHL season that players will appear in Europe. Switzerland, Germany and Finland will be the most likely popular destinations. But the UK will be a destination with Nottingham and Belfast high on the list of likely stops. Watch out though for the Coventry Blaze who may have the salary and the import slot ready should Mike Danton’s visa application appeal be denied.