Christian Ehrhoff has joined the growing list of players who aren't waiting for the NHL to return. He's exchanging the lockout for Euros.
The Buffalo defenseman is expected to join the Krefeld Pinguine of the German elite league today. He's the first Sabres player to secure a job while the NHL and its players' association try to find common ground on a new collective bargaining agreement.
The Krefeld supervisory board spent Monday discussing how it would finance the insurance needed for Ehrhoff, who is in the second year of a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Sabres.
The German native is hardly alone on his European migration. Superstars Joe Thornton and Rick Nash have agreed to skate in Switzerland. Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Sergei Gonchar are playing in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League. As the lockout lingers, the number of players signing with other teams will increase.
"Guys want to play hockey," Sabres defenseman Jordan Leopold said Monday. "That's a big thing, and if they have the opportunity, great. It's good for them. It shows that we have some other options.
"Our job right now is just to stay in shape and be ready once training camp opens, whenever that is."
Leopold joined 20 other members of the Sabres' organization, plus unsigned former captain Jochen Hecht, for a 90-minute practice in Northtown Center at Amherst. The players surveyed plans to stick around Buffalo for at least two more weeks, but once the group splinters because of Rochester Americans training camp (which starts Sept. 28), other employment options will be sought.
The Sabres are supposed to start training camp Friday, but few if any believe that will happen. League and union members don't expect formal CBA negotiations to resume until Wednesday at the earliest.
"We're far apart, not only with the numbers and stuff, I think it's the framework," Vanek said. "I don't think the owners are giving our framework an honest look, which we think its disappointing because we look at this as changing the game for a long time, not just a quick fix and then five, six years, then what? We'll do [a lockout] again?"
The sides are $1 billion apart on how much the players should earn during the next CBA. The union also would like to see increased revenue sharing, while the league wants strong limits on everything from free agency to contract lengths.
"We all have hope," Leopold said. "It's one day at a time. The whole grand scheme of things can change overnight. It really can. If somebody makes a phone call and talks progress, you can hatch out a deal on a piece of paper in about 20 minutes. Who knows?"
For now, the players are on their own. To make sure their on-ice sessions don't get stale, the Sabres have brought in old friends to run practice. Retired Sabres Andrew Peters and Jay McKee designed the drills Monday, with Peters donning coaching gear and McKee skating in full uniform.
"I want to help contribute to these guys staying in shape during this lockout period," Peters said.
Peters and McKee lived through the last lockout, which cost the NHL the 2004-05 season. Peters played overseas while McKee skated in Buffalo.
"When you go out there and scrimmage it's not the same thing as when you get somebody out there putting you through drills," McKee said. "You can get lazy when you're doing scrimmages and not doing stops and starts."
With the exception of Vanek, who wore a University of Minnesota sweater, the players wore Sabres practice jerseys. Several teams have forced players to return their gear during the lockout. So far, though, there hasn't been much animosity between players and owners despite wildly different views on how to run their business.
"As far as we see it, there's no grudge against Terry or anyone," Vanek said. "He's been good to us. We understand at the same time that we've got to stay together.
"Hopefully, guys like Terry will have more input because the view we're getting is there's a few guys really running the league, and if that's true it's unfortunate because Don doesn't have five, six players running our side. He invites everyone, encourages everyone, and you would hope the owners would do the same and all the owners would have the same input."