Sunday, August 06, 2006

Goodbye NHL, Hello Germany.

More and more minimum wage NHLer's are opting out of scrounging for work in the league and instead are heading overseas, particularly to Germany to find gainful and enjoyable hockey employment.
Two former Edmonton Oilers, Cory Cross and Sean Brown, have joined the ever-growing wave of NHL players heading to Germany.

"I'm really looking forward to it; the whole experience," said Cross, who signed a one-year contract with Hamburg Freezers, a team name that had him chuckling.

The Freezers are one of 14 teams in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL). Amazingly, 91 players with NHL experience or drafted by NHL clubs, played in the DEL last year alone.

The number even surprised Cross, who said he had no idea the German league was so filled with NHL players. But he can understand why.

"Every time I've gone to play in Europe I've enjoyed it and just about everyone I've talked to have said they had good experiences," said Cross, who was part of three world championships, including 1997 and 2003 Team Canada gold-medal victories.

"It's such a different atmosphere."

Most attractive to Cross is that having played 659 NHL games -- including three seasons with the Oilers -- and not having a contract for the coming season is "the life experience.

"How many chances do you get to do something like this?" he asked. "I've done the same route here for 12 years. Why not change things up?

"They set you up with an apartment. They give you a car. The salaries aren't comparable to the NHL. But the money is tax free.

"When you add up the bonuses, the apartment, the car and the tax-free salary it's comparable to the minimum NHL salary ($450,000 US last season)," Cross said [...]

Yet even if an NHL team had signed Cross for the coming season -- minimum wage; two-way contract -- he said he'd probably opt for Germany anyway. Then again, Cross said it isn't about money.

"I'll be able to be with my family a lot more," said Cross, 35, who will be joined by his wife Shannon and five-month-old daughter, Ayla.

"They only play 52 games, mostly just two games a week and, as I understand it, most of the games are on Fridays and Sundays. So the most you are going to be away is a weekend. And even then you won't be far because all the games are in Germany."
As Europe becomes more and more attractive to the minimum wage NHLer's under the new CBA I think the quality of play in the league could suffer some from the lack of NHL quality blue collar hockey workers staying here in North America. I guess time will tell.

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