NHL players seeking alternatives as lockout threatens season


If the NHL lockout drags on, Alex Ovechkin plans to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
September 17, 2012

The NHL owners officially locked out the players at midnight on Saturday, and with no negotiations scheduled, players such as Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Michal Neuvirth are exploring their options overseas, an indication they don’t expect the labor dispute to be settled anytime soon.

Ovechkin, who has yet to sign a contract but has said he plans to play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League during the lockout, told Sovetsky Sport on Monday that he believes the NHL lockout could wipe out the entire season.

“If the League [NHL] continues to insist on their [demands], then it will take a full year,” Ovechkin told Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport as translated by Yahoo’s Dmitry Chesnokov. “That’s because we are not going to cave in. Then I will spend the entire season in the KHL. It’s an absolute reality.”

Ovechkin, who turned 27 on Monday, has been outspoken about the NHL’s labor negotiations in recent weeks, and if his characterization of NHLPA solidarity is accurate, the league could be in for another long work stoppage eight years after canceling the entire 2004-05 season.

Ovechkin likely will play for either Dynamo Moscow, his former club, or CSKA Moscow, where his friend and former Capitals teammate Sergei Fedorov serves as the general manager.

Neuvirth, 24, said he would have a contract to play in the Czech Extraliga by Tuesday. Patrik Stefan, Neuvirth’s agent, said that the goaltender plans to join his former team HC Sparta Praha.

“It’s a tough situation,” Neuvirth said Monday after a workout with teammates in Arlington. “For me, I just want to play. I think it’s going to be better to practice with a team, get some games. I would be happy if I could fly back in a couple weeks and get ready for the NHL season, but at this point I’m looking forward to playing in Czech. Hopefully we’ll all be back here soon.”

Since the lockout began, roughly 30 NHL players have signed elsewhere, agreeing to contracts that include clauses that permit their returns to North America whenever the lockout ends. The vast majority of those who have signed are Europeans who can live and play in their home countries with relative ease, like Ovechkin and Neuvirth. But a few North American players are making the jump across the pond as well, perhaps a stronger sign that the NHL labor dispute will be prolonged.

According to multiple reports, San Jose’s Joe Thornton and the New York Rangers’ Rick Nash will sign with HC Davos in Switzerland, where both played during the 2004-05 lockout. San Jose’s Logan Couture is also close to signing in Switzerland, with HC Geneva.

While some players make arrangements to play elsewhere, a few continue to train in Washington despite being unable to use the team’s private facilities.

A group of 13 Capitals arranged workouts Monday without the benefit of NHL accommodations. They paid for ice time, set up in a public locker room, lugged their gear in from their cars and then packed it back up in order to go lift weights at a nearby gym.

“You’re used to having everything here and now we don’t, but everyone knows what they’re doing,” said Marcus Johansson, who was sent to fetch water and sports drinks from vending machines and the concession stand at the end of the workout. “Everybody loves the game. You want to play hockey, but there’s not much to do. We’re not just going to start playing because, as [NHLPA executive director] Don Fehr says, we have to find a good agreement to play under, and if we don’t we’re not going to play.”

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