The recent rib injury sustained by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov underscores the substantial career risk NHL players are taking while playing overseas with international clubs. Markov, who has played only twenty games with the Canadiens the past two seasons due to a serious knee injury, seems to be snakebitten.
His most recent injury occurred while playing for the Russian club Vityaz Chekhov of the Kontinental Hockey League. Although his rib injury does not appear to be serious, there are legitimate concerns about a 33 year old player who is attempting to eradicate the rust from his game and make a comeback from multiple major knee operations.
The biggest risk to players like Markov is sustaining an injury which would render them unfit to play upon their return to the NHL, thus potentially having their contracts terminated by their respective teams for being “damaged goods”. For this reason, players who do latch on with teams overseas during the lockout must pay a premium out of their own pockets to insure their NHL contracts.
The formula is simple: the older the player and the more lucrative his contract, the higher the insurance premium. And for the star players, this cost is anything but chump change.
For example, according to the Toronto Sun, it would cost New York Rangers Rick Nash over $100,000 per month to insure the five remaining years on his contract, which pays the 28 year old Left Winger $7.8 million per season. Ouch! Such astronomical insurance rates are almost as painful as Markov’s knee injury. Basically, a huge chunk of the money NHL players are earning while playing overseas is allotted toward insuring their contracts. At least someone is making money from this NHL lockout.
So why should the players even bother taking such a chance which can result in catastrophic consequences? Well, just like the insurance industry, it is a game of risk and reward for the locked out professional hockey athlete. The players are risking serious injury so they can reap the rewards of staying in condition and being in game shape once the season resumes.
For veteran players like Markov, who appears to be closer to the end of his career than the beginning, the decision may seem like a no-brainer. If he fails to see any significant ice time for a third consecutive season, he risks having his skills diminish to the point where he will no longer be able to keep up with the speed and intensity of a physically demanding game.
No doubt, the younger hockey players who are starting out their NHL careers are least affected by the lockout, as they can forgo the inherent risks of playing overseas. The youngsters can more afford to sit out because their young bodies, which have not been put through the grind of multiple NHL seasons, are able to get in shape much faster than the battle weary veterans.
It would make little sense for a young NHL player who has yet to sign a lucrative concert to risk a career ending injury playing overseas for a couple hundred grand, thus extinguishing any hope of signing a much more rewarding future contract with his NHL team.
Just as it did eight years ago, the current NHL lockout is forcing many players to make decisions which could affect the remainder of their careers. For the players who feel they have a need to remain sharp and continue playing during the lockout, at least they have the option of taking out an insurance policy to watch their backs. Naturally, this coverage comes at a prohibitive premium.
Now…if only an insurance policy existed which would prevent Markov from getting injured.