Is Playing In Europe Worth the Risks For NHL Players?

It seems that every day we hear of more and more NHL players who have agreed to go play in Europe while the third lockout in the last twenty years lingers on.  Yet, we are now starting to hear of some of the injuries these players are suffering and in some cases, of the serious nature.  This begging the question, is it worth the risks for the NHL players to play in Europe?

It’s obvious that the players want to stay fit and keep their skills sharp in hopes of a new CBA being completed that would allow them to return to their North American cities and compete for Lord Stanley’s mug.  After all, playing in a competitive league with other top end talent is a sure way to keep oneself ready in the event they get the call to come home.

But it also brings a heightened chance of injury, something that could potentially jeopardize their NHL season, if we should ever start one.

Case in point, Anton Volchenkov who is currently signed with the New Jeresey Devils, recently broke his leg while playing in the KHL.  He’s expected to miss at least six weeks and he’s fortunate it’s not longer.

So what happens if the NHL and the NHLPA come to an agreement in the next week or two.  The season would likely start in the middle of November meaning Volchenkov would miss the start of the season and likely the first month as well.  Not to mention he is then behind the eight ball when it comes to getting back into game shape and cracking the Devils defense lineup.  And for what?  He played in a mere three games before suffering the injury, an amount that hardly seems worth it.

Now you can sit there and say that it’s fluke or that an injury could happen to a kid like Taylor Hall when playing in the AHL.  Very true, but considering that not every player is over in the KHL, Volchenkov is assuming those heightened risks and if I were the Devils, I’d be furious to find out one of your top defenceman is now out with a serious injury.

Another example is Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins who apparently suffered a groin injury while playing in a Czech Republic league.  It’s not known how long Rask will be out of game action but it is worth noting that this injury is believed to be related to the same one that limited him to just 23 games last season for the Bruins.  Rask suffered the groin injury on March 3 in a game against the Islanders which caused him to miss the final 19 games of the year.

How concerned do you think the Bruins organization is right now knowing that Rask is not only hurt, but an injury that can often nag a player for the better part of a season.  And given the goaltenders versatility, a groin injury is only that much more serious.  Throw in the fact that Tim Thomas decided to get all political and step away from hockey for a year, the Bruins are probably hoping a deal doesn’t get finalized anytime soon or they might not have either of their top two net minders.

We learnt this week that Mikko Koivu has agreed to play in Finland and one can only hold their breath for so long, praying that nothing serious happens to Koivu while suiting up for his hometown team.  Then it would really hit home to have one of our own out of possible NHL action.

It’s easy to sit here and say we can’t blame the players for going to Europe and staying fresh.  But when an injury happens and one that could affect their NHL careers it’s worth taking note of it.  After all, given the salary differences between the KHL and NHL, it’s easy to say who’s paying these  player’s bills, even with the lockout going on.  Making the decision to play overseas a risky one and a risk that may not be worth it.

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