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Who needs whom in the NHL?

Posted by She's Game Sports  October 8, 2012 01:41 PM
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Ilya Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers is one of many Russian players who has chosen to move to North America to play for the National Hockey League. Bryzgalov implied recently in an interview that NHLers might be tempted to remain in the Kontinental Hockey League overseas regardless of NHL labor disputes. (Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE)

Bobby Ryan is right: it's not really possible to pencil in lengthy CBA negotiations when you are busy scoring goals or blocking shots in Kladno, Magnitogorsk, or Geneva.

However, it's also not easy to tell over 1,000 active players to not work or stay active when the jobs they have committed to will not ask them back. There is always room on a European team's depth chart for a skilled player since the best of the best usually end up in North America. When North America won't have them, choosing Europe seems as easy as picking the ripest apple out of the basket. The play won't be quite as hard, the competition won't be quite as tough, but they're still going to make some money and stay conditioned.

The players don't need the NHL to make their livings, but they certainly want to base their careers there. It's the culture, the sheer amount of money, the stardom and the atmosphere of North American hockey that players aspired to become a part of before they ended up hearing their names called on draft day. The management and ownership of the League strives to maintain that in tandem with the NHLPA. And there's no bigger reminder that there are other fish in the sea than seeing your best talent continue to live their lives without the most competitive and popular hockey league in the world.

If it weren't just business, I'd say it was a bargaining chip. As if everyone who has left for Europe just said, "We don't need you. We can, in fact, get on without you." Unfortunately, it is just business, and most of the players know they will be back once all of this blows over - whether that's this month or next July.

It has been said that the fans have no stake in this because regardless of how many of us decide to not give the NHL our money or how loudly we voice our annoyance at the lack of hockey, the NHL will still be a multi-billion dollar business when the new CBA is negotiated. But both the fan involvement and the fact that the players don't necessarily need the NHL are worth considering in terms of the league's long-term viability. If every CBA negotiation is going to be like this, it might not even be worth it to hold up the National Hockey League as something great to aspire to -- not to mention that the business side of it will eventually begin to suffer.

So, when Bobby Ryan says that players defecting to Europe are "running from the problem", he kind of has a point. One can infer that Ryan and others who share his opinion still uphold the NHL and being an NHL player as things worth fighting for, and they see leaving for Europe as potentially endangering the League itself, not just, say, the first half of this season.

After all, while the players don't necessarily need this league, the league certainly needs them. The coexistence of a management and a players' union that so deeply, deeply lack trust between them is yet another red flag of an unhealthy business being sustained on poor practices.

In the meantime: the most solid, up-to-date news we actually have about the negotiations is the fact that deputy commissioner Bill Daly and NHLPA general counsel Steve Fehr actually spoke on the phone to discuss speaking again in order to schedule a time to speak this week. So they had a phone conversation to schedule a phone conversation to schedule a meeting, if we're to believe the press. These are the salient tidbits of gossip that we are hanging onto in early October.

And, even worse for North American hockey: Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is stirring up controversy of his own by saying that Russian players might just stay in the KHL after the lockout is over, citing, in addition to the heartwarming prospect of playing in front of their hometowns as superstars, the fact that there is a great deal of money in corporate sponsorship in Russia, perhaps more than players might make in the NHL.

The various labor disputes on our side of the pond could certainly make the KHL an attractive destination for talented players, since the neither the KHL nor its predecessor, the Russian Superleague, suffered any notable labor dispute. While the RSL did not have a union, the Kontinental Hockey League Players Trade Union was formed upon the creation of the KHL in 2008. The KHL, it should be noted, has stricter rules in place than the NHL in some aspects, including a history of "forced" RFA contracts wherein players under 28 have been legally bound to sign offer sheets whether they want to or not, and such decisions were upheld by Russian courts. Maybe having a labor dispute in Russia is more trouble than it's worth, regardless of whether players are happy with the KHLPTU's end of the deal.

All of this speculation notwithstanding: the season was supposed to begin this week, and there is still no end in sight.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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About the author

She’s Game Sports is a new media company dedicated to sports-loving women around the world. We are here to entertain, serve, empower and inspire women by delivering the “heart of More »

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