Thursday, February 11, 2016

Which Flyers will play in Europe?

NEW YORK -- Without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement hashed out in the next 17 days, nearly every single NHL player will become a free agent at 11:59 p.m. on September 15.

Which Flyers will play in Europe?

Danny Briere is one of two Flyers who played in Europe during the last NHL lockout. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)
Danny Briere is one of two Flyers who played in Europe during the last NHL lockout. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

NEW YORK -- Without a new Collective Bargaining Agreement hashed out in the next 17 days, nearly every single NHL player will become a free agent at 11:59 p.m. on September 15.

For most, that means the ability to bolt for Europe, to most professional leagues start playing games this week.

From last year’s roster, there are only 9 players who are not permitted to play in Europe:

Brayden Schenn (age 21)
Sean Couturier (19)
Eric Wellwood (22)
Zac Rinaldo (22)
Erik Gustafsson (23)
Brandon Manning (22)

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Chris Pronger (post-concussion symptoms)
Andrej Meszaros (Achilles)
Andreas Lilja (hip)

Injured players cannot be locked out, and thus, will receive their full salaries during a lockout. (See: Roenick, Jeremy - 2004-05). 

Entry-level players, or those players who are on their first pro contract and not subjected to waivers, are permitted to play in the AHL without the risk of being grabbed by another team.

Of those players, only Sean Couturier is a question mark. Technically, Couturier is not old enough to play in the AHL, as per an NHL rule, since he is still 19. However, Couturier is on his entry-level deal and the AHL is expected to allow certain underage players to skate this winter, since the NHL isn’t expected to challenge with a new rule.

Other younger players, like Harry Zolnierczyk, Marc-Andre Bourdon and Ben Holmstrom, who have made dents on the Flyers’ roster before, are eligible to play in the AHL since they are skating on two-way contracts.

For the rest of the Flyers’ players, skating in Europe is a unique way to both change the pace of a season and remaining in playing shape.

There have been reports circulating around the league of players who already have deals in place to sign in Europe. Pittsburgh’s reigning Hart Trophy winner, Evgeni Malkin, reportedly has a deal finalized with Russia’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk to skate in the KHL.

For some, like Jake Voracek, it would be a chance to return home and play in his native Czech Republic. He could even lineup alongside former teammate Jaromir Jagr to play for their hometown for HC Kladno, a franchise owned by Jagr himself.

One place we know players will not be playing is Sweden. Last week, the Swedish Elite League announced that they will not accept players on half-year contracts, in order to protect the jobs of some of the players they have already signed for full-year deals.

Russia’s KHL, arguably the second-best league in the world, is actively recruiting players. Finland, Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany also have competitive leagues.

Veterans Danny Briere (Bern, Switzerland) and Jody Shelley (JYP, Finland) were the only two players active on the Flyers’ roster who played in Europe during the last lockout. Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, Max Talbot, Voracek, Matt Read, Luke Schenn and Braydon Coburn would all be prime targets.

Hartnell, for one, would be a natural fit in Finland. He owns 5 percent of the Finnish League’s KalPa, where fellow teammate Kimmo Timonen is also a part-owner. Hartnell told reporters in Voorhees on Wednesday that he needs to keep playing and would definitely consider Europe.

Briere and Timonen both told reporters on Wednesday that they would likely remain in the United States. Both Briere and Timonen have three school-aged children in the Philadelphia area. It’s tough to uproot a family, especially for a potential lockout which could be settled quickly. 

There is something tugging on Timonen’s heart, though. His brother, Jussi, plays for KalPa, which is located in his hometown of Kuopio. Former Flyer Sami Kapanen is KalPa’s captain and a co-owner with Timonen and Hartnell. The team’s general manager, in fact, is Kapanen’s younger brother, Kimmo Kapanen.

Timonen reiterated on Wednesday, skating for the second day in a row after a summer back surgery, that he is 37 years old. It probably wouldn’t hurt him to rest.

If completely healthy, Nick Grossmann would probably skate in his native Sweden, though the new Swedish Elite League rules may prevent him from doing so. 

Then again, there may not be a lockout at all, if both sides can settle before Sept. 15. At this point, that seems unlikely. And, as Hartnell said on Wednesday, it’s important to keep your options open.

QUOTABLE: "I think the economy is not as strong as it was maybe in 2004 or 2005. I think families are maybe thinking, if we’ve got $200 to spend, maybe we should spend it somewhere else. To me, we’re going to lose fans if we’re going to lose time."
-Kimmo Timonen to Comcast SportsNet on Wednesday, regarding the effects of a potential lockout.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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Frank Seravalli Daily News Staff Writer
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