NHL Rumors: Is it Safe for Players to Head Overseas During the NHL Lockout?

By Steve Palumbo

The collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHLPA is scheduled to end on September 15. If a new deal isn’t finalized before that date, the league will hunker down for its second lockout in the past eight years and many of the league’s top players will be forced to play elsewhere even if its not safe.

It would painful blow to the league, which had been making strides in terms of regaining some of its popularity. The sides are still miles part, and at the center of the fight is money, both sides want a fair shake. Usually the fans tend to suffer the biggest blow with any type of work stoppage. But, at least fans remain home and can always turn their attention to the NFL, NBA or the MLB playoffs.

Players often have to make life changing decisions that severely effect their personal lives away from the game. Recent history suggests that it may in fact be these players who will suffer the greatest during a lengthy labor dispute. In many cases NHL players put their lively hood and careers in jeopardy to play elsewhere while league representatives from both sides lock horns at the negotiation table; typically one located in a posh air conditioned or heated (if this drags on long enough) office building or hotel.

There is talk that many of the games best players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Ovechkin and even the NHL’s golden child, Sidney Crosby are all rumored to be headed overseas if the start of the season is considerably delayed. Imagine the PR nightmare the NHL would have on its hands if one of these players was seriously hurt, became ill or even worse,..killed?

During the last lockout in 2005, Patrik Elias of the New Jersey Devils contracted Hepatitis A while playing in Russia. Elias lost 30 pounds and was hospitalized in the Czech Republic for almost a month, and it very nearly cost him his career. Then 29-year-old Elias played for Znojemsti Excalibur Orli in the Czech Republic before signing with Magnitogorsk Metallurg to play alongside Devils teammate Petr Sykora in the Russian League. It was at that time Elias developed flu like symptoms accompanied by a dangerously high fever. Blood tests revealed he had indeed contracted Hepatitis A.

The virus spreads through fecal-oral contact and is most commonly contracted by consuming food or water prepared in an unsanitary or improper manner. Although the United States has a deluge of nasty fast-food joints, this is not typically a problem for hockey players in the U.S. or Canada. Can the same thing be said for Russia or the Czech Republic?

If the thought of getting a life threatening disease is not enough of a deterrent, the transportation they’ll be forced to endure traveling from city to city should be. In just over a week, the Russian Kontinental Hockey League will mourn the one-year anniversary of the crash of a Yak-42 aircraft carrying the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey club. The air disaster moved Russia ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo as the unsafest place in the world to fly. The tragedy will forever haunt the hockey world as the single greatest catastrophe is the sports history. It should be as fresh in the minds of players today as it was then.

The reality is this, players want to play the game they love. For many of them its all they know. They would rather put their own lives and future at risk to do so; even if it means playing in unsafe or unsavory conditions. It would behoove both the NHL and players association to work around the clock to secure an agreement and ensure the 2012-13 season starts on time. If they cannot strike a deal by the mid September deadline, then a year from now, we may be talking about a hockey disaster of a different kind.


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