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Home, Sweet Home

Posted By Matt Preston On Nov 8 2012 @ 4:21 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

There’s no place like home.

At least that is what Dorothy Gale would have us believe.

Me? Two months back I picked up and left pretty much the only home I had ever known and moved across the country. Tonight, however, was to be my little slice of Heaven as the Boston Bruins were supposed to be in Tampa to face the Lightning.

No matter how immanent a labor agreement might seem after meetings between the NHL and NHLPA the last few days, the lockout has still denied me that chance.

Will I ever go back to Boston? Probably one day. The far more important question to this space, however, is how many of the players who are now spread across the globe will return to their NHL homes once the lockout ends?

It is a rumor and threat that has been spread throughout the summer and lockout from various sources, that some players may opt to stay overseas even after this current NHL labor dispute ends. Based on the way they have conducted business throughout the lockout, it seems as though it is a threat the NHL has not taken seriously, but should it?

The Black-and-Gold faithful can probably breathe easy as none of the 10 Bruins currently playing overseas have made mention of staying away from Boston and it is should be safe to say they will all be lacing it up with the team once the NHL returns to the ice. The same can probably be said for many of the elite NHLers who left to go overseas. The interesting cases, however, and the players who should be most concerning to the league, are the Russian players who have left for their homeland to take a spin in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League while the NHL is on hiatus.

Alexander Ovechkin, one of the top offensive talents in the league, and Evgeni Malkin, the reigning league MVP, are two of the NHL’s most marketable players and both have insulated the idea of staying close to home is an intriguing one. Ovechkin and Malkin are just the top of the list of several, quality players who have echoed the sentiment, begging the question is there a downside for Russian players to stay in their native country?

There is no question the NHL boasts more talent than any other league across the globe by far, but the KHL, arguably the second best league around, has made continual strides over the past few years to gain credibility. While there is still a long way to go before they catch up in terms of talent, the KHL has proven it has the ability to compensate some of its talent on a level near that of the NHL.

As the KHL’s ability to compensate grows, so will their talent level. The higher the talent level becomes, the less it becomes a given that a player simply bows to playing in the NHL. Even before the lockout, Russian players have already either left North America to play at home, such as Alexander Radulov, or threatened to do so, such as Alex Semin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Lubomir Visnovsky. Though nearing the end of his career, in the case of Jaromir Jagr, we have already seen a player with many quality years left opt to play in Russia over the NHL.

It is not just an empty threat anymore.

As they have proven with their negotiating tactics throughout the 54 days of this current lockout, the NHL seems to give little care or feel the least bit threatened as their claim of best league in the world, and plan on picking up right where they left off in June. Maybe they should not be worried just yet, as it is all just speculation anyway that any player of significance will actually stay overseas. It is also hard to believe that the top North American talent, the greatest percentage of NHL players, will leave their home turf for a permanent gig in the KHL. The NHL, however, is playing with fire.

The growth of the KHL and its quest to gain global credibility is akin to that of Major League Soccer. Long seen as a far sub-standard league in the global eye, MLS has grown in popularity, credibility and quality of play over the past five years as it has been able to keep homegrown stars, such as Landon Donovan, as well as attract more globally-known talent, such as Thierry Henry and David Beckham.

MLS is still not yet on the level of its European counterparts and how much it will take for the KHL to ever catch up the NHL remains to be seen. The Russian’s league quest to gain credibility, however, begins with keeping its native stars at home. Could this lockout be the straw needed for one of Russia’s elite to stay closer to home?

The NHL should be a little concerned about their arrogance. The outcome of these labor negotiations could be the domino needed to lead to the NHL losing a significant core of its Eastern European talent, who could choose the comforts of home over being a world away, while playing in a league that could become comparable in both the talent level and the way it compensates its players.

Who says you can’t go home?

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