Hockey: Tales from the Trough: NHL lockout means talent surplus for AHL, IceHogs, European hockey

By Todd Reicher
Sports Columnist

The NHL and the NHLPA were unable to agree to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which expired this past weekend. This means a lockout for the NHL has started.

Currently, there is no indication for how long the NHL and players will be locked out, although many analysts speculate a new agreement will not be in place before November.

What does this mean for hockey? Well, for the NHL, it obviously means most players will not be playing any professional hockey this year.

You will notice I used the word “most” in my previous sentence. Why is it most players, you say? Well, there are a few places players will be able to play during the lockout.

Russia has the KHL, and Europe has a few leagues of their own: the Elitserien, or SEL (Swedish Elite League) in Sweden, SM-Liiga in Finland and DEL in Germany, to name a few.

The KHL in Russia is their equivalent of the NHL. As such, the KHL has already issued rules and regulations for allowing talent from the NHL to play in their league. Some of the interesting points are: 1. KHL clubs can sign a maximum of three NHL players; 2. The salary paid to NHL players may not be higher than 65 percent of the salary in his NHL contract for this season.

In addition, the KHL has also said, “Of the three NHL players signed to a contract by Russian KHL clubs, there may be only one [foreign born] player. And it cannot be just any foreign-born player, but one who meets one of the special criteria that was set in place to ensure only top-level players come to the KHL.”

Players must meet any one of the following criteria, not all of them:

• must have played no less than 150 games in the NHL in the last three seasons;

• must have had experience playing in the KHL;

• must be a member of the national team of his country at one of the last two IIHF World Championships, World Junior Championships or the Olympic games; or

u must be a winner or the finalist of the Stanley Cup or the winner of one of the individual prizes awarded by the National Hockey League at the end of the season.

As you can see, the KHL is serious about making sure their players are not forced out of hockey because of the lockout. The other leagues mentioned above have not set any rules or regulations in regard to NHL players playing in their leagues.

There is also a small percentage of players who will be playing for their minor league affiliates in the AHL. This is where the Rockford IceHogs come into the picture.

As much as the fans would love to see Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Marion Hossa in Rockford, that will not happen. There are many rules that govern who will be eligible to play in the AHL, but the quick and easy way to explain it is that any player who is on an Entry Level Contract (ELC) will be available to play for their AHL club.

According to a press release sent out by the Chicago Blackhawks Saturday, Sept. 15, “the Chicago Blackhawks have assigned forwards Kyle Beach, Brandon Bollig, Terry Broadhurst, Rob Flick, Byron Froese, David Gilbert, Jimmy Hayes, Marcus Kruger, Peter LeBlanc, Jeremy Morin, Philippe Paradis, Brandon Pirri, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Ben Smith, defensemen Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Shawn Lalonde, Joe Lavin, Nick Leddy, Dylan Olsen and Ryan Stanton, and goaltenders Mac Carruth, Carter Hutton, Alec Richards and Kent Simpson to the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs.

Additionally, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Joakim Nordstrom to the Swedish Elite League’s AIK, forward Phillip Danault to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Victoriaville Tigres and forward Mark McNeill to the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders.”

Of the names listed above, Bollig, Hayes, Kruger, Saad, Pirri, Shaw and Leddy all had time with the Blackhawks last year. Of those players, only Saad and Kruger have yet to suit up for a game with the IceHogs.

The influx of talent will mark many challenges for both players and coaches. IceHogs coach Ted Dent will have to reconfigure a good portion of his lineup and determine who will get playing time, who will sit and who will get sent down to other leagues.

It’s not only the IceHogs that will see some upper-level talent. Other teams in the AHL will see some big names play for their club. It was announced that Carolina Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner, who was the NHL 2010-2011 Rookie of the Year, will be playing for the Charlotte Checkers. Skinner, who is in the last year of his ELC, signed a six-year contract extension this summer worth $34.35 million.

In addition, the Oklahoma City Barons will receive star players Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (a 2011-2012 NHL Rookie of the Year candidate) from the Edmonton Oilers. Eberle received a similar deal to Skinner this past off-season to the tune of a six-year, $26 million contract extension. If it were not for a nagging shoulder injury, the Barons would have also received first-round draft pick Taylor Hall.

Other notable players coming down to the AHL include New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique (another 2011-12 rookie of the year contender), Philadelphia Flyers forwards Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Winnipeg Jets center Alexander Burmistrov.

The AHL has not seen this much high-level talent since the NHL’s last lockout, which took place in 2004-2005.

With such high-profile players in the league, combined with no NHL games, the AHL is sure to receive some extra attention this season. NHL fans itching for their hockey fix will have to settle for their local AHL teams, which should result in record-setting attendance and revenues for teams and venues.

As much as I am looking forward to potentially seeing guys like Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins and Skinner, I’m hoping the lockout is short-lived. For one, you will not see a true representation of how good your team is this year, since each team will have some NHL talent on their roster.

Also, I am a fan of NHL hockey, and I am looking forward to seeing people like Toews, Kane and Hossa on the ice. The NHL can’t afford to lose fans again, but if the lockout lasts longer than the analysts expect, I fear they may be short a few.

From the Sept. 19-25, 2012, issue

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