NHL players are being told to head to Europe if they want to play this season.
While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hasn't officially cancelled the season, player agent Allan Walsh told the Sun yesterday his Octagon Hockey agency is telling its clients to sign immediately with European clubs.
More than 300 NHL players are already playing in Europe because of the lockout, but many have been holding off heading overseas.
The message being sent by Walsh is simple: No negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement are expected, which means there won't be a season.
"We're advising our clients who have been waiting for an agreement in the NHL that they shouldn't wait any longer and they should get over to Europe right away if they want to play this year," Walsh said from Los Angeles.
"It's our estimate the year is over here and there's not going to be any hockey," he said. "If they want to start playing, then they should probably get to Europe as soon as possible because there is still work available over there.
"I don't see how you could counsel players to sit around and wait any longer. It doesn't make sense."
Walsh said he's received plenty of calls from European teams looking for help.
"There's still a lot of jobs available for players who want go," he said. "Teams have been holding onto cards and not signing players because they want to get NHL players to fill those spots.
"If you look at most of the teams over there, they still have one or two roster positions available."
Critics have accused members of the NHL Players' Association of stealing jobs by playing in Europe, but Walsh defends the practice.
"They're not stealing jobs. They're taking jobs that are being offered," he said. "European clubs have been keeping spots open to sign these players because they want to have the best players available to them.
WANT TO PLAY
"It really bothers me when people accuse these guys of stealing. These are players who have been locked out of the NHL and they want get to playing."
Walsh also predicted that if the lockout drags on, some players won't return to the NHL next season.
"I'm sure there are some guys who have gone to Europe, they've made their money in the NHL and they're pretty comfortable in the situations they're in right now. They might just decide to sign for the whole year next year," he said.
"I don't feel the league is going to break the union. People talk about the (proposed) WHA being competition for the NHL. They should be talking about the Russian Super League because that's going to be the NHL's biggest competitor. Those teams in Russia are offering big money."