Columbus Cottonmouths: NHL lockout affects all pro hockey teams, including Snakes

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerOctober 1, 2012 

The National Hockey League lockout that began Sept. 15 affects every professional hockey team in North America and Europe for at least one mathematical reason.

There are an estimated 700 elite players looking for jobs.

Some already have made decisions. Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk and Evgeni Malkin are among those headed to the KHL in Russia. The exodus will continue until each KHL team reaches its limit of three NHL players.

Younger, less prominent NHL players are in a tougher spot.

"All hockey players in North America are affected when you eliminate that many jobs," South Carolina Stingrays (ECHL) coach Spencer Carbery said. "The NHL players drop down to the AHL. The AHL players come down to the ECHL. A guy who would have played in the ECHL could end up in the SPHL."

Contracts dictate which NHL players can move easily and risk-free to the AHL.

"If players are on one-way NHL contracts, they can't be sent to the minors without putting them on waivers," Carbery explains. "But there are players on entry level deals who can move. Players that have two-way deals can move up and down with no waivers between the NHL and AHL."

Among the NHL players headed to the AHL include Jordan Eberle (Edmonton), Adam Henrique (New Jersey), Cody Hodgson (Buffalo) and Brett Connolly (Tampa Bay).

Players such as former Columbus Cottonmouths defenseman Andrew Krelove will be adversely affected. Krelove, who is entering his second pro season, intended to play for Carbery but headed to Holland instead.

"Young players like Andrew are in a tougher spot," Carbery said. "He deserves an opportunity to prove himself, but, this year, there are so many players. He could earn a spot, but it will be much more difficult."

The lockout doesn't just affect the players. Coaches have a more challenging task than usual.

"The most difficult part about managing this is how do you plan for the day when the deal signs?" Carbery said. "If you have 10 affiliated players, five could be gone tomorrow. These guys will help you win, but you have to think about what to do long-term. It's going to be very tough to maneuver your roster this year. We'll have to learn on the fly how to prepare ourselves when the deal is signed."

When the lockout ends, NHL teams will have a brief training camp and exhibition season and the roster shuffling will begin. The biggest victims in a practical sense will be players in the lower levels of minor league hockey.

"It's sad, but a lot of guys will be bumped out of the opportunity to play pro hockey because of the lockout," Carbery said. "If it's their rookie year, some guys will never get the chance because others will take their spots."

In Columbus and the other SPHL cities, players lace up the skates for little pay. They are motivated by a love of the game and are far removed from the issues the NHL players are haggling over. Yet, the effects of the lockout trickle down to the lowest rungs on the hockey ladder.

"I know there are really complicated issues that the millionaires and billionaires are fighting about," Snakes forward Derek Pallardy said. "It's easy to say you play for love of the game when you make millions. At the salary we're making, we're playing purely for love of the game. Many of our players have college educations. Some have Ivy League educations, but we're playing for a few hundred a week."

Crunching the numbers doesn't work.

"On average, they make 50-100 times more than we do," Pallardy said. "Are they 50-100 times better than we are or work 50-100 times harder than we do? Clearly, they're far better at what we do, but it's tough to empathize with guys who are already getting paid so well."

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