While some NHL coaches likely cringe at the prospect of their guys playing during a lockout, Lindy Ruff is of a different mindset.
“My feeling is if you can play, play, whether you’re a half a world away or not,” Ruff told the Buffalo News. “Playing’s a good thing. You can keep your skills sharp.”
The Sabres have players currently playing in Switzerland (Tyler Ennis), Germany (Christian Ehrhoff), Slovakia (Andrej Sekera) and soon, Austria (Thomas Vanek).
For most NHL coaches, the idea of players playing anywhere during a lockout — Europe, lower-tier North American leagues — is a double-edged sword. (The AHL is a different situation, obviously.)
While the competition will undoubtedly keep players sharp, there’s also great risk given the lack of familiarity with teammates, opponents, style of play and — let’s be honest — guys looking to make their marks by targeting NHL stars.
Example: During the 2004-05 lockout, then-RFA forward Scott Gomez joined the Alaska Aces of the ECHL, only to have his season end in terrible fashion — he suffered a broken pelvis on a dirty hit from a guy named Ashlee Langdone, who once racked up 514 PIM in 56 games with San Diego of the WCHL.
From the Anchorage Daily News (Apr. 2005):
Aces winger Mike Scott, reached on his cell phone in Seattle, said he was stationed just inside the gate at the Alaska bench when Langdone hit Gomez. Scott called the check the cheapest shot he has ever witnessed.
“Quite honestly, it was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my career,” Scott said. “It was horrible. Hitting from behind, that’s not part of the game, especially to hit a world-class player when you’re a marginal player in the ECHL.
“It’s disgraceful, to be honest with you.”
This current lockout, still in its infancy, has already seen a couple of injuries.
Rick Nash was knocked out of a game with Swiss club HC Davos after suffering a shoulder injury and St. Louis Blues defenseman Kris Russell, playing for Finnish club TPS, suffered a lower-body injury so severe he returned to North America for treatment.
That said, Ruff isn’t a big fan of the alternative.
“I worry more about the guys that are, after a month or so, just playing a little bit of shinny hockey and practicing a little bit,” he explained. “It’s tough to stay sharp. You don’t have that physical challenge. You don’t have the challenge of elite players playing against you, and I think those players have a bigger challenge than those guys that are going and playing.”