The mass exodus of locked-out NHL players continued on Monday when 11 more players, including San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton and Rangers winger Rick Nash signed contracts with European leagues.
Dozens of other NHL players, including Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and goaltender Michal Neuvirth, are expected to sign contracts this week. Neuvirth has reportedly come to an agreement with a team in the Czech League and could sign as early as Tuesday.
If so, he would be the first Capitals to sign with a team in Europe, although Ovechkin might beat him to it. Ovechkin, who turned 27 on Monday, reportedly was deciding between his former team, Dynamo Moscow, and CSKA, which is managed by former teammate Sergei Fedorov. Both are in the Kontinental Hockey League.
Former Capitals winger Alex Semin, now a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, is also expected to sign with a KHL team in the coming days and there is a chance he will be reunited with Ovechkin.
As of Monday afternoon, 26 NHL players had signed contracts with leagues in Russia, Finland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.
Why the sudden defection of NHL players?
Its very, very simple, said player agent Mark Gandler, who represents Semin. The players are locked out. Theyre free to play anywhere in the world they want to play.
Prior to leaving for Moscow on Sept. 8, Ovechkin told reporters he would play in the KHL and went so far as to say some players would leave the NHL and never come back if they were forced to take a significant reduction in contracts that already were agreed upon. Gandler said hed be surprised to see that happen.
If they dont come back that means they will be in violation of their NHL contract after the lockout is over, he said. Its the same for every player, so I dont see that as an issue whatsoever.
The KHL has a limit of five non-Russian players per team and the Swedish Elite League has said it will only sign NHL players to full one-year contracts. Other leagues are less stringent in their signing policies, which may be why Thornton and Nash signed deals with HC Davos of the Swiss National League A and Sharks center Logan Couture signed with Geneve-Servette, also of the Swiss League .Thornton and Nash played for Davos during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.