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Planning for a lockout

Rick Nash and Joe Thornton played together for HC Davos in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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Rick Nash and Joe Thornton played together for HC Davos in Switzerland during the 2004-05 lockout. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The threat of another NHL lockout has sparked speculation over the backup plans of some NHL players.

Szymon Szemberg of the IIHF took to Twitter to report Swiss club HC Davos had announced San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton and New York Rangers right winger Rick Nash would be joining their club in the event of another NHL work stoppage.

Thornton and Nash were linemates with HC Davos during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Though the report was on the club's official website, the respective agents for those players quickly denied their clients had any arrangements for a Swiss reunion.

Henrik and Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks, meanwhile, have reportedly spoken to MODO of the Swedish Elite League regarding a return.

The Sedins began their pro careers with MODO and spent the lockout season with the club.

The twins intend to remain in Vancouver for now, but that could change if it appears the entire NHL season will be lost.

The majority of NHL players have yet to make any backup plans if the season fails to begin on time, probably to maintain a unified front in the NHLPA's quest to get a new CBA implemented by Sept. 15 - the end date of the present agreement. After all, it would send the wrong message to the league and the fans if a large number of players signed with European teams before a lockout was official.

Still, it would be naive to assume players aren't considering fall back options. A number of them will consider joining European or North American minor pro leagues if a lockout stretches into October and November.

During the lost season of 2004-05, 388 NHLPA members played in Europe, mainly in Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia and Finland.

In North America, the ECHL and now-defunct United League signed several NHL players, while a number of young NHL players on entry-level contracts spent the season with their clubs' American League farm teams.

Those who played in European and minor leagues faced considerable criticism for their actions, accused of taking away jobs from non-NHL players. The fault, however, lay with the owners of those teams, as they seized a rare opportunity to cash in on NHL talent not normally available to them.

The Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan suggested NHL players might find it more difficult to find jobs in Europe this time around, as those teams might not be amenable to hiring NHL stars who will depart once a lockout ends.

Then again, it didn't prevent teams from signing nearly 400 NHL players last time around. If there's another NHL lockout, those European and minor pro teams will surely do it again.

Russia's Kontinental League could become the biggest beneficiary. Since its inception, the KHL has fashioned itself a challenger to the NHL's global dominance, but for the most part it has become a destination for young players unable to make the cut in the NHL or fading veterans hoping to keep their pro careers alive.

An opportunity to sign locked-out, prime NHL talent to big-money deals would prove an excellent opportunity for the KHL to sell those players on the Russian league as a viable alternative.

If successful, that could have consequences for NHL teams in their future attempts to re-sign some key free agent talent, especially if the players’ share of hockey-related revenue is significantly reduced, salaries are rolled back and strict contract limits are introduced.

Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.

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