For me, this is the first lockout since I'm regularly watching hockey and also the first since I'm a Sens-fan. So this is a new phenomenon for me. I do have some thoughts on the whole dispute, but that's not what I want to write about. Reading about the whole NHL vs. NHLPA dispute however I've come across some sentiments around the interwebs about the locked out players playing somewhere else. That, I do want to write about.
The gist of these opinions seems to be: "How dare these spoiled millionaires take the jobs of hard working players in other leagues!"
I have some objections to that.
First. What those people are actually saying is that once NHL'ers are locked out by the league, they've lost the right to play professionally, period. Because they'll always take somebody else's spot. No matter what. Say there are 5000 payed hockey jobs available worldwide. From one season to the next, the NHL has a lock out. Suddenly there are only 4300 jobs available to the more or less the same 5000 players. Hockey is the same as any other line of business. Barring ongoing contracts (and the space they take), the best workers/players will be offered a job somewhere. That's the way it works. What would be the alternative? Should they all start their own 'amateur' league and all play there for free* until the dispute is resolved?
Second. They may be millionaires, but that doesn't imply they're spoiled or not working hard. Sure, there are whiners among those millionaires. Sure, some of those millionaires tend to take a regular night off. But do you really think there aren't any whiners, enigmas or lazy guys in the AHL, SEL or KHL? Apart from the KHL, the wages are considerably lower than in the NHL, so if they choose to play somewhere else, they take a huge cut in pay. Add to that, the real chance they have to pay for their own insurance and you see they aren't better compensated for the same amount of work than those whose job they 'steal'. Millionaires? Definitely! Spoiled? Maybe, but they're not treated that differently.
Third. Are the locked out players the actual problem here, or is it the other leagues with their teams? If none of the teams in other leagues would sign locked out players or if the other leagues would prohibit that, there wouldn't be a problem, am I right? Are the players to blame then, for taking someone else's job? Or are the leagues to blame for allowing or even encouraging it?
This is all well and good, but it's still a problem.
The way I see it, is that you have a certain range of quality in players on one hand. And on the other hand you have a range of quality in leagues. Once the NHL (temporarily) isn't there anymore, you still have the same range in players, but the range in leagues has taken a cut. The best players (NHL'ers) look to play in the best available league. For several reasons (location, league rules etc.) they don't all flock to the same league. If those leagues allow locked out NHL'ers to play there, it's too bad for the players they replace, but they simply aren't the best available anymore.
There should however in my opinion be rules to regulate all this. The first rule would be about the term of the contracts. Other players (non-NHL'ers) have to commit for at least a year. So should the locked out players, once they choose to play in another league. Maybe there's a scenario where all parties are better off when there's, by exception, a term of half a season. But otherwise players should commit for the season. I don't know what that means for an ongoing NHL contract if a new CBA is in place within a year and NHL games are played this season. But if it has quite severe implications, perhaps players won't sign somewhere else lightly. Nor will too many, so the disruption of other leagues is limited in that case. It could also put some pressure on the owners. Imagine Pittsburgh without Crosby and Malkin or the Minnesota without Parise and Suter, because of a breach of contract.
The other rule should be that players are treated equally when finances or other terms of employment are concerned. Same wages, same taxes, same insurance premiums etc.
I'd like to give a quick view from another perspective. The whole lockout could not only be a threat, but also be a huge opportunity for some European leagues, where teams don't sell out every game. If I were a league executive, I'd try everything in my power to get as many NHL'ers (preferably stars) to my league as possible. Attract as many subsidies, sponsors, merchandise sellers and advertisers as possible to finance it all. Go all in and try to put the sport on the map. Get as many on the bandwagon as you possibly can, in that year. Argue that the best hockey in the world is played in your league. People will come! ** I'd go...
*) If those games would be televised, they'd have my blessing ;-)
**) On second thought; that strategy doesn't work in Phoenix and Florida. But it still could work in some European countries, I guess.
Disclaimer: I'm European, so I'm not as entrenched in the North American sports (and/or customs) as most of you are. I blame all flaws in my logic on that :-) But I'd like to hear your opinions anyway, let me know in the comments or on the forum.