They might be giants: NHL-ers in the Elite League

Thursday, 23rd December 2004

So, what has the NHL ever done for us? Apart from providing arguably the best hockey on the planet, not much. Right?


Former NHL players have plied their trade outside of the Big League before. A few even made it over to the UK before. However, at the minute we have a unique situation. We have current NHL players here, in Blighty, playing in the Elite League.

How has this happened? Simple, really. We can thank the lock out. Y'see, there is an awfully large number of players on the NHL rosters, and most of them wanted to play hockey this season. Now, for sure, the clubs have re-assigned a lot of their younger or marginal players to their AHL affiliates, but even then there are only so many roster spots to be found.

So what of the others? Quite a few have found their way over to Europe, with Russia especially benefiting. AK Bars Kazan are icing a pretty much bona fide NHL roster this season, boasting the likes of Vincent Lecavier and Nikolai Khabibulin from the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning squad amongst their numbers. Even Roman Abramovich, he of Chelsea FC fame, has dipped into his pockets to bring Jaromir Jagr out to the Siberian town of Omsk to play for his team.

Even the financially limited EIHL has attracted a handful of NHL players. Cardiff Devils have the services of Rob Davison of the San Jose Sharks, Coventry have Toronto Maple Leafs' Wade Belak (who was featured on Channel 4 news this past week), even cash strapped London Racers have Eric Cairns of the New York Islanders. (They did have Chicago Blackhawk Scott Nichol, but he went back home).

These guys are certainly making an impact. Sure, they aren't the greatest guys on their respective rosters back in the NHL, but they are still a step above the norm for the EIHL.

But what does this mean for the sport? As mentioned, Coventry Blaze have been featured on national television with the arrival of Wade Belak. And as we all know, the sport in this country needs all the exposure it can get.

In the long term, some of the younger British players on these sides can only benefit from playing and training alongside players like this. They have experience in the toughest league in the world, all of which is invaluable if they choose to impart what they have learned to the British lads. And let us hope that this era of NHL-ers in the UK can inspire a few 'lost' fans to return, helping to secure the future of the sport in this country.

Some folks will ask how these players are being afforded. From my digging, it seems that they are not taking match fees, but the clubs are just paying the insurance for them. Now, you can argue the toss about wage caps etc, but this is an opportunity too good to pass up.

And to leave you, I'll mention one more name who reportedly may be on his way. Can you say Kirk Maltby?

by Robb Hitchen