Welcome to another edition of Point/Counterpoint, where a pair of Flyers Faithful scribes square off, debating an issue with their own unique style and flair. This week, Kim P and Craig F discuss the pros and cons of NHL players joining teams in other leagues during the lockout.
Point: Kim P.
Now that the NHL is in lockout mode, some players have flocked overseas and joined teams in European hockey leagues. It’s great for those players, who get the chance to do what they love even though their own league is at a standstill, but there are some downsides to these guys playing abroad.
When a player joins a new team, they have to adjust to a new system. Every coach is different, and every system is different. There might be some bumpy moments as NHL players adjust to not just the new system, but new teammates, as well. The atmosphere in the locker room will likely be different than what they’re used to in the locker room they’ve grown accustomed to. Language barriers may cause issues. These are the same issues that might arise when a guy gets traded from one team to another in the NHL, but they’re magnified somewhat as this transition is happening overseas, where things are obviously different.
Then there’s the fact that once the lockout is over (which is sooner than later, we’re hoping), players will come back and have to adjust to a new system again. There will be another period of time where some players will have to tweak the game they’ve been playing for however long they were overseas, and the transition might not be easy. Pair that with the fact that NHL teams wouldn’t have had much time to practice together before their shortened season began, and things might not be too pretty at the start.
The downsides don’t just apply to the NHL players, of course. There’s a huge downside for those players who have been in the European leagues for a while now. With the influx of new players coming over from the NHL, the other players could lose ice time. Some players who are trying to earn a regular starting spot might not get as much time to shine, or as many opportunities. And, considering the fact that the NHL might be locked out for an entire season, this wouldn’t just be an issue for a month or two – it could be an entire season lost for certain players on those teams.
Obviously, these guys are playing overseas because they don’t want to be away from the game completely, and playing now will put them in good shape when the lockout is over, and that’s all well and good. But there will surely be some growing pains, both in joining a new team and returning to an old one, and a lot of adjustments to make.
Counterpoint: Craig F.
Since the NHL is in a lockout, players will join teams and leagues in other parts of the world, mainly Europe. Although it isn’t good for the NHL or its negotiations, it is good for NHL players and the game of hockey overall.
Kim is correct that these players will need to adapt to new teammates and strategies, but that is a better option for them than to stay here and not play at all. Yes, players could stay in the United States and practice with teammates, but it isn’t the same as playing competitive games. Teams could scrimmage against their teammates every day in an attempt to return to game form so they’re ready when the lockout is finally resolved, but this tactic has its flaws. Players will build their game around their teammates’ (opponents) flaws rather than the basics and the scrimmages will quickly lose their appeal and benefits. By playing in other leagues, NHL players will experience game-like situations (albeit against weaker competition) in preparation for when the season finally starts.
In addition to preparing NHL players for the season immediately, allowing players to play in other professional leagues allows some of the game’s best players to be seen across the world. Several countries in Europe have hockey leagues, but how many teams in those leagues have a Pavel Datsyuk, Alex Ovechkin, or Ilya Bryzgalov? The NHL’s best players going to Europe to play in these leagues would be similar to Lionel Messi or Cristiano Rinaldo coming over here to play in the MLS. It would show the difference in skill between the NHL and these leagues, which would ultimately give the NHL more fans internationally.
Another positive to players going to different leagues is the ability to let some players play for their home team. For instance, Jaromir Jagr is able to play for HC Kladno in his hometown of Kladno, Czech Republic. Not every player will do this, but it is a nice thing to see a player represent their hometown after they’ve spent a good amount of time playing in the NHL.
The lockout isn’t a pretty situation for anybody. However, when the two sides finally come to an agreement, the players would be in their top form if they were playing in other leagues across the wforld during the stoppage. Not only would it help keep players in game condition, it would help the NHL gain even more international fans.