The Kontinental Konundrum: Should Locked-Out Players Stay Or Go?

Let’s take a trip down crazy-hypothetical-sports-dream-scenario lane for a moment.

Steven Gerrard is a star midfielder for the English Premier League soccer club, Liverpool FC. Before the EPL season starts, the owners decide they don’t want to pay Gerrard and the rest of his Premier League colleagues as much as they agreed upon just a few years earlier, and lock the players out. (Sound familiar?)

The fans, as you can imagine, are outraged. So are the players. When they realize the EPL’s hard-headed commissioner (I have no idea who the actual commissioner of the EPL is, or if the EPL even has a commissioner, but if I know commissioners, he’s definitely hard-headed) and the hard-headed executive director of the EPL’s player’s association (ditto) are light years away from actually coming up with a new CBA, the players start looking elsewhere for employment.

Italy, Spain, Germany, even (GASP!) the land of opportunity, North America, comes calling.

Enter Toronto FC.

So Gerrard loves the city of Toronto. TFC is offering him a multi-million dollar contract to lead their team. Diehard Liverpool supporters litter the streets like a herd of rats. Gerrard decides to sign the contract, and suddenly it’s the biggest sports story to hit The Big Smoke since that time the Leafs almost got Wayne Gretzky. Or that time the Leafs almost got Vincent Lecavalier. Or that time the Leafs almost got Steven Stamkos. Or that time…OK, I’ll stop.

The fans are thrilled. TFC’s owners, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, are thrilled. Steven Gerrard, along with his millions, is thrilled. Heck, even these guys are thrilled. Everybody is thrilled.

Well, everybody except Terry Dunfield. You see, the 30-year-old Good Ol’ Canadian Boy was released unceremoniously by the team. You may have missed the press release in your haste to purchase the shiny, new, no. 8 TFC jersey at Real Sports.

Not so thrilled anymore, right? (Again, we’re still walking along crazy-hypothetical-sports-dream-scenario lane here. Please don’t mistakenly inform Terry Dunfield that he’s been cut by Toronto FC. He probably won’t be too happy.)

Snap back to reality. (OH, there goes gravity.) Scenarios like this have played out over a hundred times throughout multiple hockey leagues in Europe since the lockout started. For every Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Max Pacioretty and Jason Spezza that signs with a team overseas, there are countless Terry Dunfields: third- and fourth-line players on the fringe who lose their shot to play professional hockey. Some of these cuts are youngsters who’ll get their shot again soon. But many others are veterans who may never get another chance to play pro.

I’m not here to pass judgment on the players who have gone to Europe to play. They all want to stay in shape, play competitive hockey and provide for their families. But we all-too-often forget about the other side of the spectrum, about those players who lose their livelihoods because some hotshot superstar from the NHL wants to enjoy a European all-expenses-paid working vacation.

But for every Nash there is a Bobby Ryan, a rare star player who refuses to take another player’s job, who feels the need to stay and support his fellow players and not just pack up and  “run from” the situation.

And for that, I applaud him. The NHL could use some more Bobby Ryans.

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Tags: Bobby Ryan NHL Lockout Rick Nash Steven Gerrard Terry Dunfield Toronto Maple Leafs

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