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Lockout Reflections – Part 1: Peering Across the Pond
Brooks Laich, one of the many Capitals that fans will be happy to see returning from partial-seasons played overseas (Photo Credit: M. Richter)
With the NHL season finally in sight, it’s time to take a look at what the Caps got up to during the lockout. In this first installment of the series, we’re take a look at the players who went overseas (it was quite a multi-cultural bunch, with at least one player in four different leagues). The homebodies and minor-leaguers will get their chance to shine soon enough.
Unsurprising to most, the choice to play abroad comes with many pros and cons. The opportunity to learn and grow, both on and off the ice, must be weighed against concerns about cultural fit, local support (or lack thereof), and safety. Even for players like Ovechkin who go ‘home’ to play, chances are that things have changed, and it can still be a rewarding choice that’s filled with new experiences. While the “European Option” was simply not in the cards for the entire league, the Caps had several players head East during the work stoppage.
In total, the Capitals had seven players sign with leagues in Europe. That being said, not all were still playing when news about the tentative CBA came down. Here’s the who’s who (and who’s where) of the last few months.
Jason Chimera was one of those who opted out early after trying a stint in Europe. He signed in the Czech Extraliga, but left after five games because it was too difficult to be without his family. In contrast, Michal Neuvirth also signed in the Czech Extraliga, where he played for HC Sparta Praha (the same organization he played for at the junior level before going to the OHL). Neuvirth started most games for the club and finished with the highest save percentage amongst their active goalies.
Brooks Laich signed with the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss National League A (thankfully, the K!Flyers’ colours are blue & red – no tacky orange in sight). He returned to Washington after 15 games due to injury, though he rejoined his new club once cleared to play again. It was a brief second wind, and his total game count with the K!Flyers was nineteen.
Marcus Johansson also went overseas, playing for BIK Karlskoga of the second-tier Swedish league, Allsvenskan. Marcus played for free, asking only that the club pay his insurance. While in Europe, he also joined fellow Capital Nicklas Backstrom in playing for Sweden against other European teams in the Channel One Cup (Russian Event Link) (unfortunately for them, Team Sweden fell to Alexander Ovechkin and Team Russia).
Speaking of Russia, the Capitals two best-known stars landed in the KHL this fall. Nicklas Backstrom joined Alexander Ovechkin on Ovi’s former team, Dynamo Moscow. Both stayed for the duration, though Backstrom missed a few games after an apparent neck injury (as of Sunday’s announcement, he had yet to return to the lineup). Before the injury, he and Ovechkin were a common sight on the scoresheet, lifting Dynamo to 2nd spot in overall league standings.
In an effort to get all of the stats out of the way in one fell swoop instead of making everyone’s eyes bleed by mixing them into the above overview, here’s a quick look at how everyone did while they were gone:
At the End of the Day
When all is said and done, all of the players who went overseas did a good job representing themselves and the Capitals organization. However, it’s safe to say that everyone on this side of the Atlantic will be much happier to have them back rocking the red.
(M. Richter contributed to this report)