Locked-out NHL players eye Europe

Posted: September 18, 2012

ON SUNDAY, just hours after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman officially locked out players for the third time in his 20-year reign, both sides in this labor dispute took to the web to continue to spin their tales.

Bettman sent a message to the fans through the league's website. The players association used a video featuring faces like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews on their own page to send their message to fans. Here is where things stood Sunday:

1) The NHL and NHLPA still had not scheduled a new, formal bargaining session to continue negotiations. The two sides have not bargained since last Wednesday and neither sees a purpose to continue without meaningful compromise. They do, however, "promise" to keep lines of communication open. And . . .

2) Numerous players have already begun to sign in Europe, wanting to cash in on any and all paying opportunities regardless of how long this stoppage lasts.

Ruslan Fedotenko became the first Flyer to take the plunge on Sunday morning, as his agent, Allan Walsh, announced on Twitter. Most European leagues have already begun their regular-season schedule.

Fedotenko, a 33-year-old winger, is going home. He signed a temporary, 1-year contract with HC Donbass in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. Donbass is embarking on an inaugural campaign as the league's only Ukraine-based team. Fedotenko was born in Kiev, Ukraine.

Fedotenko's contract with Donbass will automatically terminate whenever the NHL's work stoppage ends and he will become property of the Flyers again. He signed a 1-year, $1.75 million deal as a free agent in July to embark on his second go-round in Philly.

Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Gonchar and Pavel Datsyuk were among a handful of big names to also announce their signings in Russia. Jaromir Jagr predictably signed in his native Czech Republic with HC Kladno, the Czech Extraliga franchise he owns and his father operates.

So far, just one North American-born player - San Jose's Jason Demers - has decided to take the plunge in Europe.

Most players, even those born and trained in Europe, have decided to take the temperature of these negotiations to gauge how long a lockout might last.

Flyers forward Jake Voracek has a standing offer with Jagr's HC Kladno squad. Since players are required to pay for insurance to have their current NHL contracts fully insured against injury, players like Voracek want to wait before paying a hefty premium when a lockout could be settled quickly.

For now, Voracek is still training in Montreal. He signed a 4-year, $17 million extension with the Flyers this summer. Training camp in Philadelphia was set to open on Friday.

"I still haven't decided," Voracek told the Daily News in a text message. "It's tough because of the insurance."

Ryan Tocicki, who adjusts insurance claims for Lloyd's of London with Philadelphia-based Premier Insurance Services, estimated a player's individual policy could range anywhere from five to six figures. Tocicki regularly handles NFL claims, such as the Hurricane Katrina damage to the Superdome in New Orleans and the roof collapse at Minnesota's Metrodome.

"These policies are based on a number of different variables, and they range from player to player," Tocicki said. "They are based on previous medical and injury history, the term remaining on a deal and the amount remaining on a deal. It could even depend where the player wants to play.

"A player like Sidney Crosby, for instance, would be much more expensive to insure because of his concussion history. They can get very complicated and insurers are strict. They do not insure against non-hockey injuries, which could result in a denial of payment."

Though European leagues generally tend to be less physical than hockey in North America, especially with larger ice surfaces, injuries can be unavoidable. Plus, as Danny Briere noted last week, players tend to be a little more adventurous with their time. Briere, who played in Bern, Switzerland, during the 2004-05 lockout, said he enjoyed the Alps and went skiing, something which is expressly forbidden under NHL deals.

The insurance factor likely could keep higher-end players like Claude Giroux from even exploring the European options. Giroux has fielded offers from nearly every European league.

Giroux, 24, finished fourth in Hart Trophy voting as the NHL's MVP last season after a 93-point campaign. Giroux has 2 years remaining on his deal at $3.75 million per season, but he would likely seek insurance on the next megadeal that would be coming when this one expires.

So far, Giroux' camp has yet to comment on any possibilities. Even Crosby, though, couldn't rule out a trip overseas.

AHL assignments

Just before the collective bargaining agreement expired Saturday night, the Flyers assigned 26 players to the Adirondack Phantoms. Their training camp will open on Sept. 29 in Voorhees under new coach Terry Murray.

Players with NHL experience assigned include Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Zac Rinaldo, Danny Syvret, Harry Zolnierczyk, Eric Wellwood and Ben Holmstrom. Two other players with NHL experience - Marc-Andre Bourdon and Tom Sestito - who did not require waivers to be sent down, were not assigned to the AHL.

Slap shots

In a letter to season ticketholders, the Flyers offered two options for the lockout: Receive 2 percent APR interest on money paid thus far, or receive a monthly refund as games are missed. The interest offer is in the middle of what other teams are offering, compared to Washington (1 percent) and Winnipeg (3 percent) . . . The NHL owners hated the previous CBA so much that they crammed $199 million in new contracts into it in the final 48 hours of the deal . . . Pavel Kubina, who ended last season with the Flyers, also signed with the Czech Extraliga. Kubina went unsigned this summer by NHL clubs as a free agent . . . Curiously, all images of individual players were wiped from NHL.com and the Flyers' website.

Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com.

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