September 21, 2004
European exodusNHLers flock to Swedish, Czech leagues
North America's loss is definitely Europe's gain with the NHL lockout.
Over 150 NHL players have signed deals to play in European leagues, including Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund agreeing to skate with Modo of the Swedish league.
Modo is building a powerhouse, also signing Canucks twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Niklas Sundstrom of the Montreal Canadiens, Pierre Hedin of the Toronto Maple Leafs and superstar Peter Forsberg of the Colorado Avalanche.
While the majority of the 150 NHL players have lockout clauses that permit them to return to North America if and when the labour impasse is over, Forsberg has indicated he will play the entire season with Modo.
Only 17 of the NHLers overseas are Canadians, European clubs obviously preferring to bring back their own. Many Canadian NHL players are participating in the Original Stars Hockey League, a four-on-four exhibition series travelling Ontario and Quebec.
In Europe, the Czech league leads the way with 47 NHL players -- including Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers and Tomas Kaberle of Toronto skating with Kladno, Martin Rucinsky of Vancouver with Litvinov, Jan Bulis of Montreal and Milan Hejduk of Colorado with Pardubice, Ziggy Palffy of the Los Angeles Kings with Slavia Prague, Radek Bonk of Montreal with Trinec and Patrick Elias of the New Jersey Devils with Znojmesti Orli.
The Russian league is second with 33 NHLers, including Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers skating with AK Bars Kazan, Andrei Markov of Montreal and Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings with Dynamo Moscow, Sergei Gonchar of Boston with Met. Magnitogorsk and Garth Snow of the New York Islanders with SKA St. Petersburg.
Ranking third with 30 players is the Swedish league, which also features Miikka Kiprusoff of the Calgary Flames and Henrik Zetterberg of Detroit with Timra, Shawn Horcoff of the Edmonton Oilers with Mora, Marcus Nilson of Calgary with Djurgarden and Michael Ryder of Montreal with Leksand.
Nine players have signed up in Finland, including Ville Nieminen of Calgary with Tappara and Jani Rita of Edmonton with HPK; nine more in Slovakia, including Ladislav Nagy of the Phoenix Coyotes with Kosice, and a stunning trio of stars with little Dukla Trencin: Marian Hossa of the Ottawa Senators, Pavol Demitra of the St. Louis Blues and Marian Gaborik of the Minnesota Wild.
Joe Thornton of the Boston Bruins and Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets, as previously announced, headline the eight players in the Swiss league, both skating with Davos, while Kim Jonsson of the Philadelphia Flyers is with Ambri-Piotta.
San Jose Sharks star Marco Sturm has returned home to Germany to play for Ingolstadt, one of seven NHL players in the German league. Mike York of Edmonton has joined Iserlohn.
There are some lone rangers out there, such as Jason Krog of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks being the lone NHLer in Austria, signing up with Villach. Steve Montador of Calgary is in France with Muhouse, while Rico Fata of the Pittsburgh Penguins has joined Asiago of the Italian league.