The fourth in the Life of a Minor League Hockey Player series –
The NHL lockout repercussions filter down far beyond the NHL and its players. If you are an NHL fan who has not focused on the minor leagues, you might not see that immediately, however, it is certainly there and glaringly apparent. The lockout is not only an NHL issue – it is a full blown HOCKEY issue. As the young Entry Level contracted NHL players are pushed down into the AHL, a number of AHL players are shoved down into the ECHL, or they end up looking for another team elsewhere, and that dominoes on down to the ECHL, on down throughout the professional minor leagues. There has also been a phenomenon of locked out NHL players signing with ECHL teams – yes, that is happening. Scott Gomez signed with his hometown ECHL team, the Alaska Aces, and Colby Armstrong recently signed with the Utah Grizzlies, just to name a few.
A minor leaguer who is under contract with an NHL team is safe. They might not be playing for their AHL team anymore, but they have a job and can be called up at any time. There is hope, even if they have been sent down to the ECHL to play. No AHL team likes to have their players sitting in the rafters game after game and it is far preferable to have them play the majority of the time, even if they are in the ECHL. They will be there, ready to play in the event they are called up to their AHL team.
It is the AHL and lower league players who have to face a good dose of reality – and some players faced their realities very quickly over the summer with the looming NHL lockout when they had no contract in place. A good number of players signed with European teams very quickly to be assured of a position with a team. Players with wives and children, those who needed a steady income and stability, had to come to grips with the situation very early. Other players who were less financially obligated had a bit more time to perhaps play the odds. Some found work in North America, while others packed their bags and headed to Europe, some traveling to Europe for the very first time in their lives. North American hockey players ended up scattered all over Europe, in the European leagues as well as the KHL, from England all the way east to Khabarovsk on the outer edges of eastern Russia near Japan.
Did this have repercussions on the European leagues? Absolutely, without a doubt. The trickle-down was felt all over the hockey world. In general, European hockey leagues have import rules and only offer a small number of roster spots to non-native players, those not born in that country. The KHL for instance only allows for three locked-out players per club, only one of which can be a foreign player.
Vladimir Shalaev, KHL hockey operations vice-president, clarified their rules in his statement:
“Our clubs have been granted the opportunity to enter into contracts and place on their main rosters no more than three NHL players, and the previously established limit of 25 players per team may be exceeded by the addition of these players. For Russian clubs, only one of the three NHL players may be a foreigner [non-Russian], and this player must meet [specific] criteria set down to ensure that only top-level foreign players come to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.”
For KHL clubs outside of Russia all three NHL player roster spots could potentially be used for foreign players. After the lockout was official, KHL clubs were allowed to raise the number of foreign players on their rosters from five to six, however only five are permitted on any given game day roster.
What this all means is that a larger number of players are vying for a much smaller pool of jobs, making it far more difficult for the lower tier players to find open spots on rosters across the globe. NHL players such as Ovechkin, Malkin, and Bryzgalov joined the KHL, while others like Thornton, Kopitar and Brier joined European teams. While many of these positions are seen as “import” roster spots, these NHL players are displacing other “import” players who had far fewer options. Like any business, the hockey business is highly competitive, and the opportunity for some teams to sign a famous NHL player is a huge bonus when it brings many more fans into their arenas.
To give you an idea of how this has impacted minor league teams, we can look specifically at the AHL OKC Barons team and their players who were either on NHL RFA’s/UFA’s, or AHL level UFA’s at the end of last season. Some found jobs here in North America, some went to Europe, and others are out of work, waiting for the lockout to end.
NHL 2-way RFA’s:
- Gilbert Brulé – (picked up on waivers by Phoenix Coyotes) signed with NLA ZSC Lions in Switzerland but since departed – no current team;
- Ryan O’Marra – signed with SM-liiga Pelicans in Finland but since departed – no current team.
NHL 2-way RFA’s with QO:
- Linus Omark – signed with NLA Zug in Switzerland.
NHL 2-way RFA’s with no QO:
- Hunter Tremblay – signed with St. John’s IceCaps.
NHL 2-way UFA’s:
- Taylor Chorney – signed a 2-way with the St. Louis Blues, now playing with the Peoria Rivermen;
- Yann Danis – signed a 2-way with the Edmonton Oilers, now playing with the OKC Barons;
- Josh Green – signed an AHL contract with the OKC Barons;
- Bryan Rodney – only recently signed an AHL contract with the Manchester Monarchs.
- Triston Grant – signed an AHL contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins;
- Bryan Helmer – no current team;
- Ryan Keller – signed with NLA, Genève-Servette, in Switzerland;
- David LeNeveu – signed recently with the EHC Linz Black Wings in Austria;
- Andrew Lord – signed with Germany 2, SC Riessersee in Germany;
- Ryan Lowery – signed with ECHL South Carolina Stingrays;
- Kevin Montgomery – signed with Lillehammer, Norway;
- Dan Ringwald – re-signed an AHL contract with the OKC Barons;
- Kirill Tulupov – signed with KHL Amur Khabarovsk;
- Dylan Yeo – signed an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies.
Read the earlier installments of this series:
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: Dollars & Sense
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: Rookies to Vets
- The Life of a Minor League Hockey Player: The Journeyman (August 20, 2013)