The decision by a number of notable locked-out NHL stars to ply their craft in the European leagues has angered some hockey fans, but does it warrant criticism?

It didn’t take long following the imposition of the current NHL lockout for a number of locked-out stars to sign with various teams in a number of European leagues.

Among the notables were Evgeni Malkin (the current NHL MVP), Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, Anze Kopitar,Tyler Seguin, Logan Couture, Sergei Gonchar, Jaromir Jagr, and Tomas Plekanec.

These moves angered some NHL fans, who criticized those players for “taking away jobs” from veterans of those European leagues. Some fans have labelled those NHL’ers “scabs”.

In labor terms, a “scab” is someone who continues to work during a strike, or is brought in as a replacement for a striking worker.

In this case, those locked-out NHL players signing contracts with European teams aren’t “scabs”. They’re not crossing any picket lines, nor are they taking away jobs from a striking worker.

Perhaps a better label for those players would be “opportunistic jerks”.

Still, it’s not as though those locked-out NHL’ers are barging into the offices of the team owners in the KHL, Czech Extraliga, Finland’s SM-liiga, Slovak Extraliga, Sweden’s HockeyAllsvenskan or Switzerland’s National Leagues demanding to be hired.

If the owners of the teams in those leagues were to follow the example of the Swedish Elitserien –  insisting locked-out NHL players must sign with them for the entire season, with no “escape clause” enabling them to return to the NHL when the lockout ends – those players wouldn’t have jobs to go to.

As it turns out, however, even the Swedish Elitserien couldn’t prevent NHL’ers from signing in their league, as the Swedish Competition Authority ruled against their decision, meaning the league must allow their teams to sign locked-out NHL players if they wish, or face stiff fines.

The fact is, those who run those European leagues, as well as teams in the Swedish Elite League,  see this as a great opportunity to temporarily hire elite NHL talent not normally available to them, bolstering attendance and TV ratings.

For the KHL, it serves a broader purpose, helping to sell their league as a viable alternative to the NHL when the lockout eventually ends.

Put simply, if the NHL owners hadn’t locked out their players, the latter wouldn’t have gone to the European leagues, where they knew they would be welcomed with open arms. It’s supply and demand, the global hockey free market at work.

Another complaint from fans about NHL’ers playing overseas  is they’re doing so for less than half of their NHL salaries.

Those players have complained about the NHL’s demand for pay cuts (in the form of reduced share of HRR and increased escrow payments). as unfair. Signing with European teams for considerable less money (as well as having to fund your own insurance) does little to buttress their complaints about the owners’ demands.

It also puts a dent into the fan sympathy the NHLPA was enjoying up to the time of the lockout.

That being said, the locked-out NHL’ers for the most part aren’t heading overseas for financial purposes, but to remain in game-shape for when the lockout ends, provided it ends in time to salvage the 2012-13 season.

Of course, that’s cold comfort for those players who will lose jobs, even temporarily, to these NHL interlopers. For them, this isn’t a laughing matter, nor am I making light of their situation.

For most of those players who’ll lose jobs to the locked-out NHL players, it’s a temporary situation. Once the lockout ends, almost all of those NHL players will return to North America, allowing those European players who lost their jobs to be re-hired.

Interestingly, no one (except Don Cherry and a few xenophobes) complains when Canadian junior leagues bring over teenage European players, taking away roster spots from “good Canadian boys”, despite the fact some of those Canadian boys lack the hockey talent to be in those leagues in the first place.

No one grumbles when a hotshot young rookie earns a roster spot at the expense of a fading veteran player. No one bats an eye when some of those fading veterans, or even some long-time minor leaguers, decide to extend their playing careers by signing with European teams, taking away roster spots from long-time European players.

Indeed, no one complained when NHL teams demoted players under entry-level contracts to their farm clubs for the duration of the lockout, which could threaten the roster spots of some established AHL players.

The sight of locked out NHL players signing for less money in European leagues and taking roster spots from lesser lights dependent upon those leagues for their livelihood appears opportunistic, even unseemly, but it’s also part of professional team sports. Regardless of what league you play in, there’s always  someone who’ll come along at some point to take away your job.

Welcome to the cut-throat business of hockey.

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8 Responses to A Few Thoughts About Locked-out NHL’ers in Europe.

  1. hillybilly says:

    Good write up, and perspective(s).

    Thank you Lyle.

  2. TopRightCorner says:

    I disagree bigtime with your comparisons.

    when an older player gets beat out by the young guy he was outplayed and lost his job.
    if that older player goes overseas and takes a job he outplayed the guy he beat out and is only there because he is no longer good enough for the nhl.

    in a work stoppage going overseas to play and earn and take jobs is basically being a scab and showing you are selfish and could care less about other players.

    what if the nhl worked out a deal to have khl/swedish/finland/czech teams come over and play league games in nhl arenas?
    by your thinking that would be okay since they should be allowed to use the arenas and make money even if it means using other leagues as a form of replacement.

    the nhl players would go berserk and scream scabs.

    and in the event those games got any kind of fans turnout at much lower ticket prices,ala nhl players taking much less overseas,then how long is the work stoppage?

    i would actually love a deal like that since the players have opened the door.
    they would really get stuffed in a new cba and deserve it too for the ‘me’ attitude and for taking jobs and not sticking together with the majority of players who have no choice but to stay home and not get paid.
    also be nice to see those that signed overseas not able to play in those games and sit and watch.

    would i go to a game between say the 2 best khl or swedish games at around 30 bucks a ticket?
    damn right i would.

    • Sean Whiteley says:

      Your comments about the NHL coming to an arrangement with the KHL,et al would be valid if the players were the ones on strike. They are locked out, hence, any action taken by the owners such as this would immediately drawn into court.
      While I agree with you on the ramifications of such an action, and the “benefits”, given the current circumstances it would do more damage to the league then help it out.

  3. rattus rattus says:

    Would love to see this, if only to watch the PA go apopletic in its best hypocritical fashion.
    These people are delusional in their blinkered sense of self-importance.

    Could soneone answer me a question that has always puzzled me?
    Why is the “unwritten rule” of not extending Offer Sheets to other teams’ RFAs called “collusion”, whereas, when the player agents are passing every contract offer from every team through the NHLPA Central for its approval, this is not called “collusion”.

    da rat

  4. Naveen Dhak says:

    One of of the better articles written about the NHL and International Hockey recently.

  5. Gennady says:

    One angle that’s not mentioned in this excellent write-up is how having NHLers play in Europe severely weakens the bargaining position of the owners. The main bargaining chip the owners have against the players is that they can prevent the latter from working (and staying in game-shape). Most of the owners have hundreds of millions of dollars, while NHL players tend to not do a great job of saving money for a rainy day. If players can’t play, they have to accept what ever terms the owners give them.

    But the possibility of playing in Europe undermines this argument as long as a sufficient number of NHL players move to Europe, particularly the KHL. Though most NHL players found a job in Europe in 2004, they generally played in sub-par leagues for fairly low pay. This will be less true this time. The KHL is in a position to attract a substantial number of players, and pay them up to 2/3 of their NHL salary, which wasn’t the case in 2004.

    To put it more simply, without Europe, the average NHL player faces the choice of agreeing to terms and getting paid $2 million and refusing to agree and getting paid nothing. With Europe, their options might be $2 million and $1 million. They might prefer more money, but they’re not going to starve with a one million pay check.

    Those calling for all the NHL players to stay at home are doing little more than supporting the owners’ bargaining position. Staying in North America won’t maintain player solidarity; it will do the opposite as more and more players run out of money and veterans start to worry about deteriorating skills. If you want the owners to bring down their demands, you should prefer every single NHL player finds a home in Russia, Sweden, or Switzerland

    • Matt says:

      Not necessarily true Gennady. The elite players won’t have trouble there, but there are all of a sudden about 700 fewer jobs in hockey. This will severely hurt the 3rd and 4th line guys who will have to take less in a subpar league. In addition, the KHL has already set restrictions on their roster..

      http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=405125

      “Each team would be allowed to sign three eligible National Hockey League players above the teams’ established roster limit of 25, but of those three only one could be a player born outside Russia.”

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