Russian NHL players "flocked home after the North American league’s season was left in jeopardy when a lockout was announced" on Sunday, according to Evgeniya Chaykovskaya of THE MOSCOW NEWS. The Kontinental Hockey League "amended its rules, allowing clubs to sign three NHL players, including one foreigner." The players will have "an opt-out clause in their contract" in case the NHL season is resumed. Pittsburgh Penguins Yevgeni Malkin "was the first to sign a contract." The forward "will now return to his native city and play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk." Malkin will be joined by Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar and possibly Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulyomin. Head of Russia’s Hockey Federation, legendary goaltender Vladislav Tretiak "thanked the lockout for a chance for Russia Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov to get a closer look at the best Russian players" ahead of the Sochi Olympics 2014. Bilyaletdinov told Sovietsky Sport, "Now it is in a way useful for our players, who can display their skills at home, bring joy to the fans. The guys that will come back will raise the level of our championship" (THE MOSCOW NEWS, 9/17). RT.com reported that New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk "is set to sign a lockout contract with SKA St. Petersburg," while fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin "is in contact with Dynamo Moscow," the reigning Gagarin Cup holders. Kovalchuk "is expected to make his debut for one of the KHL’s richest teams on Sunday" in SKA’s away clash with Dynamo Moscow (RT.com, 9/17). The DPA reported that Buffalo Sabres defenceman Christian Ehrhoff "is close to sign a contract with German Hockey League (DEL) club Krefeld Pinguine." The 30-year-old German native is expected to make his debut for Krefeld on Friday against the Hamburg Freezers. In addition, Florida Panthers center Marcel Goc, as well as free agents Jochen Hecht and Marco Sturm, "are considering a return to Germany" (DPA, 9/17). In Toronto, James Mirtle wrote that those departures amid an NHL lockout are "likely just the beginning." During the last lockout, more than "380 players found homes overseas for at least part of the 2004-05 season" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 9/16).
EUROPE REALITY: In Chicago, Adam Jahns noted the option players have "of playing in other leagues -- particularly in Europe -- has been the most publicized reality of the lockout." Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews confirmed at the NHLPA meetings that "he’d consider playing in Europe, and other Hawks will, as well." The longer the lockout goes, the "more likely more players will go." If players do opt to join another team, they "have to insure their contracts in case of injury." If injured, their NHL teams "can suspend them when they return without pay until they’re healthy" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/16). Penguins center Sidney Crosby acknowledged that playing in Europe "remains a possibility but said rumors that he already has spoken with a Swedish team are untrue" (TRIBLIVE.com, 9/15). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli noted thus far "just one North American-born player -- San Jose's Jason Demers -- has decided to take the plunge in Europe." Most players, even those "born and trained in Europe, have decided to take the temperature of these negotiations to gauge how long a lockout might last" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/17). In a separate piece, Seravalli wrote getting hurt, even "in the more docile European leagues, is a very real possibility" for players. That is why "one of the main topics" at last week's NHLPA meeting was "the importance of insuring players' current NHL contracts before heading overseas" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/16).
NOT EVERYONE IS WELCOMED: The CANADIAN PRESS' Chris Johnston reported that the KHL "has established guidelines for its teams to follow during the lockout." Each is permitted to sign a "maximum of three NHLers for a salary worth no more than 65% of what they were due to earn in North America" this season. For the 20 teams based in Russia, only one of three spots can be used on a foreigner, and that person "must have played at least 150 NHL games over the past three seasons, suited up recently for his national team or won the Stanley Cup or a major individual award" (CANADIAN PRESS, 9/17). In N.Y., Jeff Z. Klein wrote on the N.Y. Times blog Slap Shot that the Swedish Elitserien "has been the only top European league to say that it will not sign NHL players to short-term contracts." However, many believe the Elitserien would have to join other leagues in welcoming NHL players under contracts of any length, since "the Elitserien's contract with its players union does not include bans on short-term deals" (NYTIMES.com, 9/15).