By Mitch Goldenberg
Without the lockout: we would have known if the LA Kings were capable of defending their Stanley Cup title; Miikka Kiprusoff would have recorded both his 600th career win and 200th career defeat; Zach Parise and Ryan Suter would have connected for a number of beautiful goals as members of the Minnesota Wild and Michigan Stadium would be transforming itself into the Big Icehouse. But we are left with the ugly reality of the NHL’s labor dispute approaching the100-day mark, and the battle is sliding towards the courthouse, seemingly months away from resolution. And thus, this week’s KHL/European report focuses on pro players overseas who aren’t having quite the impact we thought they would.
Pekka Rinne has put up Vezina-esque numbers in his past two NHL seasons, guided the Predators to the playoffs in his past three and been outstanding guarding an NHL net in his past four. But KHL life hasn’t been as glorious for the Finnish netminder. With a 9-11-2 record in 22 games, combined with a .892 save percentage and a goals against average at 3.08, Dinamo Minsk fans have to wonder if it really is the NHL star inside their blue and white goalie gear.
The New York Rangers have had a tough go overseas so far. Rick Nash left his Swiss team earlier this month to nurse a groin ailment and Michael Del Zotto followed him home from Switzerland last week after suffering a back injury. Last month, Ryan McDonagh took a temporary leave from his Russian team to return home for family reasons and to heal undisclosed (non-serious) injuries, on the same day, Carl Hagelin had his contract terminated by his Swedish club soon after suffering a shoulder injury. Derek Stepan is the lone Ranger abroad right now, but his transition to Finnish hockey has been a lengthy process. Through 12 games, he has just four points.
Stephane Robidas is getting old. The 35 year-old has seen his point total decrease in each of the past two years, and many wondered if a stint in the Finnish league could spark the veteran. Not the case, as Robidas is minus 11 for HIFK Helsinki, the second worst plus/minus total of his career. And he’s not exactly lighting up the scoreboard either, with just two goals and three assists in 15 games.
Evander Kane was the first Canadian NHLer to go overseas during the lockout to play foreign hockey, and was also one of the first to return. By his 12th game with Dinamo Minsk, Kane was a fourth-liner and playing around 10 minutes per night. With but one point to his credit, Kane wandered back home, as he “could not adapt to hockey in the KHL.” According to his Russian coach, Kane was out of shape and not ready to play at that high a level. Yikes.
Joffrey Lupul has only played nine games in the KHL and it’s not fair to say his venture hasn’t worked out just yet, but the beginning of his journey has been underwhelming thus far. An all star and point-per-game player last year in the NHL, Lupul has just one goal and three assists in nine games and is sitting at a minus 6 with his new Russian team. Life ain’t easy without Phil Kessel on your line.
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