Locked-out NHL players finding the key in Europe

Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog is among the most recent of the 108 players to find work...

Colorado Avalanche's Gabriel Landeskog is among the most recent of the 108 players to find work elsewhere. (NICK LAHAM/Getty Images/AFP)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:37 PM ET

Once the axe falls on the start of the regular season, the exodus to Europe by locked-out NHL players only will get bigger.

While the league head office held off Wednesday on officially pulling the plug on its October schedule, the announcement likely will take place Friday with no collective bargaining agreement in place between the NHL and the players association.

The season was to begin next Thursday. With talks going nowhere, a large group of players is expected to join the more than 100 who already have headed overseas.

Boston's Patrice Bergeron (Switzerland), David Krejci (Czech Republic) and Zdeno Chara (Russia) along with Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog (Sweden) and Matt Duchene (Sweden) are among the most recent of the 108 players to find work elsewhere.

"Gonna miss all the Avs fans at the Pepsi Center, you guys are one of a kind," Avs captain Landeskog tweeting before leaving. "I hope to see you all back as soon as possible."

Don't hold their breath, hockey fans.

"More guys will start looking at (Europe)," Chara's Boston-based agent, Matt Keator, said Wednesday. "A lot of guys realize they can't go the whole season without playing structured hockey."

Nobody is sure what route the league will take with the schedule, but at this juncture it may make sense to send the players a message by cancelling all games in October.

Although most of the players who have signed overseas are European NHLers, there will be a flood of North Americans looking for work because the doors in Switzerland, Russia and the Czech Republic are creaking open.

"It's loosening up in the last week or two because teams over there are realizing it could be really long lockout, whereas before they weren't quite sure," Keator said. "The teams over there realize there shouldn't really be a lockout.

"They're in disbelief that there is a lockout, so there was some hesitation with some clubs to sign guys over there. That's loosening up because it doesn't look like it's going to get solved in the next week or two."

Octagon Hockey's Allan Walsh, who represents the likes of Winnipeg's Ondrej Pavelec, Ottawa's Milan Michalek, San Jose's Martin Havlat and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury, said in an e-mail the phone activity has picked up.

"I believe the most recent count is approximately 100 NHL players signed and playing in Europe during the owners lockout," Walsh said. "Day by day, we are receiving more urgent inquiries from European clubs for locked out players.

"As the owners lockout drags on, I expect many more players will be looking to Europe to maintain their skills and conditioning. Players love to play the game. After the owners slammed the NHL door shut, it's entirely logical for players to want to play the game at a high level where they are welcomed and appreciated."

Despite insurance issues, Keator said the players want to stay busy.

"(The flood to Europe) definitely is going to increase there's no question," Keator said. "There are only so many spots over there but I think the European teams realize that since this thing isn't going to be ending anytime soon they're going to be opening their doors. Guys will have more opportunities to go because doors will open the longer this goes. It's a shame."

A shame indeed.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @sungarrioch


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