by Lisa McRitchie on 09/17/12 at 10:45 PM ET
It happened without fanfare, it happened without a big public address, but it happened just the same. The NHL season is cancelled for the foreseeable future and the players are locked out. For some, that means nothing but more uncertainty. Do they pack up their families, pull kinds out of school and chase a paycheck in Europe, do they spend a year away from their families if they can find a team to play for? Not every player will be able to find a team, and certainly not every player will feel comfortable with the risks of taking less pay and the risk of getting injured and forfeiting their NHL salary if the season can be salvaged.
For the Oilers, several players on entry level contracts (ELC) have been assigned to play in the AHL with the Oklahoma City Barons, some have accepted that they will not be playing hockey unless the NHL starts up again, and of course a few are making their way to various leagues in Europe.
Nail Yakupov was the first to make his decision public, that he had not only been invited to play in the KHL but that he was going to play there should the season be delayed or cancelled. While it will do Yakupov well to play with men, it will set back his transition to speaking English. By playing in Russia however, Yakupov will be more challenged physically as well as in terms of skill level and at the same time, he will not be using a year of his ELC, and that should excite some fans.
For the other notable European players on the Oilers’ roster, it appears a return home is also in the works. Ales Hemsky and his questionable shoulders as well as shut down defenceman Ladislav Smid will both travel to play in the Czech Republic this season, or at least until the NHL season begins. The move will mean playing closer to their families, but you wouldn’t think that these two were chasing the money.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz among others have made the journey to Oklahome City and say they look forward to the new challenges and opportunities this experience will provide. While the AHL is the minors, it is known to be a very physical league and it will mean the return to travel by bus, and many back to back weekend games, much like these players saw in their junior hockey days.
And for those just graduating from their junior days, Martin Marincin and Tyler Bunz, it will just be more of the familiar.
It is important that these younger players keep playing and while they may have preferred to seek big money contracts in Europe, the Oilers will be happy knowing that their future and current stars are still in their system and under their watchful eyes.
But for the other players; Ryan Jones, Ryan Smyth, Ryan Whitney, and all of those players that aren’t leading the league, are coming off of injury, or are in the twilight of their career this could be a long and tiresome time. They will be watching their friends and teammates and hoping to hear some good news from the league.
But of course, it is still the fans, the bar owners, the arena ushers, and even those that work for the NHL teams in the front offices that will suffer the most. Without an NHL season, those that rely on the league to make their income could find themselves looking for a way to make ends meet. When you think of those people, it makes it difficult to feel sorry for the players or the owners.
Still, there will be hockey this fall, it just depends on where you are willing to turn to to watch it. Several Oilers’ prospects will be playing in Edmonton on a regular basis with the Edmonton Oil Kings. And of course, you can expect to see better coverage of the Oil Kings and the Barons this season I would think, the Oilers are hoping to avoid making any layoffs, and will likely keep their employees busy covering the Oilers’ players and prospects.
My plans for this lockout, for as long as it lasts is to try to keep up with the prospects and the draft eligible playres in the WHL and as well as the Oilers in OKC and Europe. But as with everyone reading this, I will miss NHL hockey.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
Oil Patch focuses on the Edmonton Oilers, the Edmonton Oil Kings, The Oklahoma City Barons and Team Canada Hockey with game coverage, news updates, speculation and interviews.
Although the Oilers have had a difficult past decade… or three, here at Oil Patch, the future looks bright.
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