The Capitals were supposed to host their second annual preseason hockey game in Baltimore on Wednesday. Instead, Alex Ovechkin is already home in Russia playing games for Dynamo Moscow, goalie Michal Neuvirth is back in the Czech Republic preparing for the season there and forward Brooks Laich is finalizing a contract with a club in Switzerland. Hey, a guy's got to do something until this NHL lockout ends.
There's no word on when that will be. The league is expected to cancel the rest of its preseason schedule this week, and regular-season games, scheduled to begin Oct. 8, won't be far behind. The rhetoric from both the NHL Players' Association and commissioner Gary Bettman, representing the league's 30 owners, has grown increasingly heated. Talks on a new collective bargaining agreement will reportedly be held Friday in New York, but they apparently won't deal with the overarching economic issues. It's simply a way to plow through the smaller side issues before the bigger job is tackled.
That leaves players like Laich in limbo. Coming to the rink and paying for ice time at Kettler Iceplex in Arlington every day was growing old. So he is finalizing a contract and some insurance issues, according to his agent, Roland Thompson. Laich, according to a report in the Swiss newspaper Blick, is expected to sign with the Kloten Flyers in that country's National League A.
The Swiss league is generally considered on par with leagues in Slovakia and Germany and is the fifth or sixth best in Europe behind Russia, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. NHL stars Rick Nash (New York Rangers) and Joe Thornton (San Jose Sharks) are already playing in Switzerland for HC Davos.
Plenty of other NHL players, including Ovechkin, have started the season in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. The Swedish Elite League had barred NHL players from signing temporary "lockout" contracts, but a court in that country ruled against the league last week, and players now can go there, too.
"I grew up loving the game of hockey, not loving the NHL," Laich said earlier this month. "All players, we want to play hockey. And the beauty of the game today is it's a global game and there's other opportunities."
- Brian McNally