NHL Rumors: Will the Right to Play Internationally be Off-Limits for NHL Players?

If the NHL bans international play, Zdeno Chara and Marian Hossa won’t be playing for Slovakia anymore. Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

With everything on the table in these labor talks, there’s something that hasn’t been mentioned even though it’s important to the 700+ players in the NHL. But a Hall of Fame defenseman thinks that will change.

Slava Fetisov, who won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, told the Russian paper Sport-Express that the league could take the right to play internationally, especially in the World Championships and upcoming Winter Olympics, out of the next CBA. Simply put, they wouldn’t be allowed to represent their countries in those tournaments.

“I have a feeling they [the league] will ban players’ travel in all international competition,” Fetisov said. “[Gary] Bettman is not interested in anything except their own Stanley Cup.”

While he did say that IIHF president Rene Fasel could try to petition on the players’ behalf if the ban were enacted, that might not work. In matters such as this, it’s the league that gets its way with the IIHF, and Fasel is not one to push back.

According to the league, the subject hasn’t been mentioned in these negotiations…yet.

So what would happen if the ban is in place? Bad things. Players like Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin have threatened to stay in the KHL if the season is canceled, and this could be another reason for them to stay. The Russian contingent is fiercely loyal to their home country, and the opportunity to represent it in international competition is a point of pride for them. If there is a ban, look for many Russian players to leave their NHL teams and play in the KHL or MHL, where there’s no such restriction.

Once the Russians leave, that could have a domino effect with other foreign players. When the lockout was announced, the Russians fled to Europe first, followed by the Czechs and Finns. Those two groups would be the next to defect from the league. Players who stay would feel alienated from their friends and countrymen, making for a very lonely existence.

What of the players in North America? Unlike the foreign hockey federations, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey could have a real problem with such a restriction. There’s no way to tell what they could or would do, but not allowing Canadian or US players to represent their countries would be a huge blow to fans who follow them during these competitions. NBC Universal could also have a problem with it, because a US-Canada matchup would be a huge ratings boost during the Olympics.

It’s a bad idea from any angle. The league stands to lose a lot if they restrict players from representing their homeland. The lockout might not kill the league, but this ban could be its death knell.

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