What your favorite Flyers will be doing during the lockout

Posted: September 16, 2012

For the past three weeks, the usual faces of the Flyers' locker room have trickled back into town. They've traded sandals for skates, taped their sticks and practiced among themselves - not to the blare of Peter Laviolette's whistle, but to their own whims - like they do every September before training camp.

But this September has been unlike any other. There was no buzz at the Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J.

Flyers players skated just in case - in the off chance that NHL

commissioner Gary Bettman would demand a little less in pay reductions this time around. But they knew what pretty much everybody in hockey knew: That for the second time since 2004, the lights will be turned out in the Flyers' locker room and the doors will be locked. Hockey will go dark with yet another lockout when the clock strikes midnight Sunday morning.

"It's going to be a battle," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said Thursday, after leaving the NHL Players Association meetings in New York. "No one said it would be easy to get these two sides together and have everyone be happy."

For players, skates have been packed and their sticks have been bundled. It's just the destination that's unknown.

Without access to team facilities and staff during a lockout, some players will continue to skate in Voorhees by purchasing ice time hourly from the rink. Some of the younger players - like Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Zac Rinaldo - will be assigned to the Phantoms, the Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, for more seasoning.

Others, like Max Talbot and Bruno Gervais, will return home to Quebec to wait it out. A handful of players will join the professional ranks in Europe.

Claude Giroux, for one, has fielded offers from nearly every professional league in Europe, where fans are actually rooting for a lockout to bring in superstars like him.

Giroux, 24, has held off commenting on where he might land. Officially, players are not permitted to sign a new contract until the league's current collective- bargaining agreement expires Saturday.

At the moment, Giroux's plan is to continue to train in Ottawa, where has been skating with a group of Senators players. Last season, Giroux worked his way into the conversation as one of the NHL's top players, alongside Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, with his 93-point season. He finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting, although he should have beaten out Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, who posted 60 goals but did not lead the Lightning to the playoffs.

Giroux is a bona fide superstar. He also represents the most interesting conversation hockey fans should be having in Philadelphia this month: Do you want Claude Giroux playing in Europe during the lockout?

A fan poll with the same question was recently posed on BroadStreetHockey.com. Out of 725 votes, the majority (56 percent) said "Yes." Exactly 38 percent of those "yes" votes said it was because Giroux is "still a young player and needs to keep developing." Another 18 percent said it was simply because they want to watch Giroux play.

The next most common answer (32 percent) was the most predictable one: "No, I'm afraid he'll get hurt."

Giroux had offseason surgery on both wrists, which he said were a result of slashes from Crosby during that epic Stanley Cup playoff series last spring. He also suffered his second career concussion in December.

Getting hurt, even in the more docile European leagues, is a very real possibility. That's why one of the main topics at this week's NHLPA meeting was the importance of insuring players' current NHL contracts before heading overseas.

Not every player is in Giroux's situation, with a lot to lose. Giroux is well-paid; he's slated to make $3.75 million next season and is one year away from a massive contract extension that will likely make him one of the game's highest-paid players.

Officially, the Flyers are not permitted to express an opinion on a player's decision to play elsewhere, since players are no longer contractually obligated to them during a lockout. The situation is a Catch-22 for them, though, too. They don't want their players to risk injury, but they also know that playing in a glorified beer league this fall won't translate well when (and if) the season starts.

"You can't just go and sit on your [butt] for a month," Talbot said this week. "I don't care who you are, everyone needs to play. I'll be doing a lot of things in Montreal to stay in shape. I have a good setup. I haven't really made any plans and nothing is concrete.

"You work out so hard in the summer, you want to keep progressing. The only way to do that is to play."

The NHL is expected to begin canceling preseason games this week. The regular season is slated to start on Oct. 11. Malkin already practiced with Magnitogorsk in Russia's KHL on Friday and could be in their lineup by next Thursday night. There have been many rumors that Crosby will play with him at some point.

Talbot is unsure where he would land in Europe if the lockout drags on. Flyers player rep Braydon Coburn said he would likely return home to western Canada, but noted that Europe is "certainly in the cards." Jody Shelley played in Finland in 2004-05 and has received multiple offers.

Jake Voracek, 23, would likely join former Flyer Jaromir Jagr to skate for his hometown HC Kladno in the Czech Republic. Hartnell owns 5 percent of the KalPa franchise with Kimmo Timonen in the Finnish Elite League and both would entertain the idea of playing there.

Danny Briere skated in Bern, Switzerland, in 2004. Ilya Bryzgalov is unsure whether he wants to uproot his kids from school to play in his native Russia.

For those younger players without families - like Matt Read, Luke Schenn and Wayne Simmonds - European leagues represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make money and see the world at the same time.

Hartnell, 30, survived the last lockout by playing 28 games in Norway. Now, Hartnell says there is a much different feeling around this looming lockout. Players know a full season isn't likely to be lost. They want to feel out this process.

"It's frustrating that we've gotten to this point and we haven't gotten anywhere close," Hartnell said. "You can see some movement both ways, but it's definitely not substantial. We don't want to take the same concessions this time around. People want to see our young superstars play. The arenas have been filled every night."

With the NHL dark, arenas across the globe will be filled with extraordinary talent. Sadly, it may take a non-European born star like Giroux or Crosby to make the NHL think twice about what it is losing.

"There aren't any guys sitting back saying, 'Oh, we'll take a couple months off,'" Shelley said. "No one has a really good sense how long this is going to last. Guys have to play."

|
|
|
|
|