By Jaimie Collins on November 9, 2012
Maxime Talbot, Philadelphia Flyers Center/Wing, is packing his bags and heading to Finland, joining his teammate Scott Hartnell on the Finnish indoor ice, and several other Flyers players skating rinks throughout Europe. Talbot is one of many players forced to seek opportunities to play outside of the United States in the wake of the labor dispute which, sadly, has frozen this year’s hockey season and chilled fans’ enthusiasm for the National Hockey League.
As the NHL lockout continues, more and more NHL hockey stars have signed up to play for teams in leagues abroad, from Finland to Germany to Russia to Kazakhstan. While for some, this may mean an opportunity to return home, and for all, an opportunity to continue training and improving upon athletic abilities, it nevertheless poses a real liability: players who are injured in competition abroad may find themselves no longer paid by the NHL once the lockout ends and their temporary contracts with European leagues are annulled. Thus, NHL players are faced with a choice: to not play during this period and risk their bodies falling out of the competitive athletic condition they need to be in to play, or play abroad and risk sustaining an injury that may be fatal to their NHL contracts.
NHL contracts comprise standard player contracts that offer compensation in return for the rendering of services, i.e., for athletic performance during the game season. Even during today’s lockout, players remain under contract with the NHL. Players are consequently able to contract only temporarily with other leagues while the lockout endures.
Those who choose to take advantage of short-term contracts to play abroad and who subsequently become injured for part of the season, assuming the lockout ends during this season, will be suspended, without pay, for the duration of their recovery upon their return to a lockout-free U.S. league. Those with more severe injuries, from which they will be unable to recover during this season, may have their contracts terminated immediately, without payment of the remaining terms of the contract. Yet players with multi-year contracts, who were injured while playing in the NHL prior to the lockout, and are similarly unable to provide services as contracted for, will continue to be paid according to the terms of their contracts.
The financial risk players playing outside the U.S. face is even more daunting in light of the fact that injury may be more likely to occur for players who opt to sign interim contracts with leagues abroad. Because of the last-minute nature of such deals, NHL players heading abroad are doing so without having attended any type of pre-season training camp. Relying solely on their own off-season workout routines as conditioning, NHL players crossing the pond are far from being in game shape, and consequently are more susceptible to sustaining career-ending injuries.
Playing abroad is costly, not only to the pride of many players who now must don advertisement-ridden uniforms or play in less well-known leagues, but also to players’ wallets. First, players earn far less playing in smaller European leagues than they do in the NHL. Second, in order for players playing abroad to hold onto their NHL contracts should they be injured, players must have their NHL contracts insured. However, many European leagues, less lucrative than the NHL, are unable to afford to pay such insurance premiums. Consequently, many players playing abroad “must pay a premium out of their own pockets to insure their NHL contracts.” Based on age, contract value, and injury history, these premiums are expensive, “cost[ing] anywhere between $20,000 to $70,000 for a two-month policy.” Succinctly, the better the athlete and the greater the likelihood of injury, the higher the insurance premiums he must pay.
Unlike with the 2004-05 lockout, sports analysts are sanguine that a full-season lockout will be avoided this year. However, as the days continue to pass without a resolution, a greater number of players will have to weigh the risks of either choosing to play and risk injury abroad or letting their athletic abilities diminish as a result of a dearth of adequate conditioning and practice. In a sport where physical hindrances have serious financial ramifications, the decision becomes a lesser-of-two-evils choice.
 Rodger Sherman, NHL Lockout: Maxime Talbot Signs Overseas with Ilves in Finland, SB Nation Philly (Nov. 7, 2012, 7:59 PM), http://philly.sbnation.com/philadelphia-flyers/2012/11/7/3615714/nhl-lockout-max-talbot-finland-ilves-overseas.
 See Jeff Z. Klein, Early Returns Are In as N.H.L. Players Head Overseas, N.Y. Times (Sept. 24, 2012, 12:04 AM) http://slapshot.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/early-returns-are-in-as-n-h-l-players-head-overseas/ (stating that 60 players signed up to play abroad within one week of lockout); see also Eric Macramalla, Legal Look: Could NHLers Be Fired If They Get Hurt
Playing?, TSN (Oct. 31, 2012, 9:28 PM), http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=408578 (explaining that, to date, “about 200 NHL players have gone abroad to play hockey.”).
 NHL Players Overseas, TSN, http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/feature/?id=75388 (listing names of NHL players who have gone abroad, and where they are currently playing).
 Katie Strang, It’s No Vacation for Euro Players, ESPN New York (Sept. 20, 2012, 3:37 PM), http://espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8403261/playing-europe-russia-easy-accomplish-locked-players.
 Harry Dole, Playing Overseas During Lockout Is Risky Business For NHL Stars, Rant Sports (Oct. 31, 2012), http://www.rantsports.com/nhl/2012/10/31/playing-overseas-during-lockout-is-risky-business-for-nhl-stars/.
Macramella, supra note ii.
 Id. (explaining sections 14 and 5 of Standard Player’s Contract).
 James Murphy, Hockey Stops, But Questions Don’t, ESPN Boston (Sept. 22, 2012, 6:55 PM), http://espn.go.com/boston/nhl/story/_/id/8408496/boston-bruins-mailbag-ramifications-nhl-lockout-which-bruins-play-overseas.
 Macramella, supra note ii.
 Lauren Burg, Tomas Kopecky Injured Overseas . . . Is Playing There Safe?, The Rat Trick (Nov. 1, 2012, 10:54 PM), http://therattrick.com/2012/11/01/tomas-kopecky-injured-overseas-is-playing-there-safe/.
 Id. (stating that NHL players opting to play abroad “really aren’t in game shape but are still thrown into the fire so to speak.”).
 Adam Gretz, NHL Lockout: Updating the NHL’s Top players in Europe, CBS Sports (Oct. 10, 2012, 2:54 PM), http://www.cbssports.com/nhl/blog/eye-on-hockey/20539227/nhl-lockout-updating-the-nhls-top-players-in-europe.
 Strang, supra note v.
 Dole, supra note vi.
 Strang, supra note v.
See Dole, supra note vi (“[F]or star players, this cost is anything but chump change.”).
See Klein, supra note ii (“This time around a full-season lockout is not expected.”).