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Flee market in Europe for NHL players

Buffalo Sabres v Chicago Blackhawks

Buffalo Sabres v Chicago Blackhawks

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Updated: October 20, 2012 6:25AM



The European exodus of NHL players began almost immediately after the owners imposed the lockout.

At first, it was mostly Russians, as a handful signed with the Kontinental Hockey League, the richest and most powerful league in Europe.

Other Europeans — from Swedes to Czechs to Swiss — soon followed, joining teams all over the continent. Then All-Star forwards Joe Thornton, Rick Nash and Logan Couture became the first notable North American players to sign overseas.

But it’s not the best option for everyone.

Some players, including Blackhawks centers Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland, prefer to work out in Chicago and are willing to be patient despite the stalled negotiations. No Hawks have signed overseas despite generating considerable interest.

‘‘That’s something I’ve been thinking about,” Toews said. “It’s in the back of my mind right now. It’s definitely an option. But like everything, it’s a very uncertain thing. … If it gets to a certain point where I feel like it’s absolutely necessary, then we’ll make a decision. But as of right now, I don’t feel too pressed.”

Players typically have out clauses in their European deals in case the lockout ends, and some have short-term contracts that are extended as the work stoppage carries on.

But for Bolland, the extensive travel and the hope that the lockout will end at any time discourage playing abroad.

“For right now, we’re hoping [the NHL season is] going to start soon,” Bolland said. “I really don’t want to get started too soon, go over there, then realize you have to come right back. Those 10-hour flights are never fun. It would be a pain getting there, then have to come right back.”

For some players, heading to Europe isn’t ideal for various reasons. Injured players such as Hawks defenseman Steve Montador (concussion) have their health to consider first.

“I don’t have that [European] option at the moment,” said Montador, who played in France during the last lockout. “I have to get cleared and remain healthy. That’s my first goal.”

Others such as Florida Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell have different concerns. He was recently married, and, like others, insuring his contract might be problematic. All players have to insure their NHL contracts in case of injury.

“I don’t know if it’s an option for some guys to play over there with insurance and everything else,” said the ex-Hawk who makes more than $7 million a season. “As of right now, I’m not really weighing that option.”

Toews and Bolland, though, aren’t surprised so many players — more than 30 and counting — have opted to sign quickly in Europe.

“You do what you have to do,” Toews said. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play this game. If you can find work somewhere and if your own employer isn’t allowing you to come into the building and letting you play for these silly reasons, you’re going to do what you have to do. It’s understandable that guys are going to go out there and look for jobs.”



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