How long the stalemate could last is anyone’s guess. The start of training camp on Sept. 21 is in jeopardy, and portions of the regular season, which is scheduled to kick off on Oct. 11, may be as well. The NHL’s last lockout resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season.
“If it’s going to be lockout, there’s going to be lockout. We ready for it,” Capitals star left wing Alex Ovechkin said. “If we was not ready [for a stoppage] we’d probably sign that kind of paper [proposal] that they gave us, but we [are] ready and we’re not going to give up.”
Around the league, players are making preparations to find competition elsewhere. The players won’t start missing NHL paychecks until mid-October, roughly the same time they’re scheduled to receive the return of last year’s escrow funds, which will be paid regardless of a stoppage.
Ovechkin, who returned to Moscow last week to celebrate his upcoming 27th birthday with family, confirmed that he will play for Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League in the event of a lockout. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, a native of the Czech Republic, is entertaining the possibility of playing in Europe, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see other Capitals make the jump to play overseas as well.
“I think guys are less nervous now than we were because there’s an option for us,” said Mike Ribeiro, one of four Capitals who experienced the 2004-05 lockout as an NHL player. “If they want to lock out, guys will find somewhere else to play and we’ll keep playing. As players, we learned last time you can play other places and make a good living.”
Signing contracts in other leagues isn’t as easy as it may seem, though. Not all foreign leagues and teams will offer short-term deals or out-clauses for NHLers to return to North America once the labor dispute is resolved. Players also must get their own insurance, to avoid potential problems with their NHL team in case they suffer an injury while with another club. Not all teams will insure an NHL contract, leaving the player to cover the cost.
“It’s crazy. I don’t even know,” Neuvirth said when asked about the details of signing with another team. “I don’t even know how the offer’s going to look like. I talked to my agent, and obviously he’s trying to get me the best deal he can.”