European Hockey: Friday’s Five for 21 December

TOGETHER AGAIN: If the the entire NHL season is lost, Malkin wants Crosby to join him in Magnitogorsk

It is Friday, and that means it is time for Friday’s Five, our weekly series covering five of the most interesting stories from the world of European Hockey. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday season – there is plenty to be happy about in the sports world right now, even as the NHL continues to dig its own grave.

5. Sidney Crosby still has not made a decision as to where he is going to play this season (assuming the NHL doesn’t return). His Pittsburgh teammate, Evgeni Malkin, hopes that Crosby decides to join him in Magnitogorsk. Signing Crosby is a tricky proposition for any team, though, because of his astronomical insurance costs (rumored to be upwards of $300,000 per month).

“Everybody’s waiting for him here,” Malkin told Sportbox.ru. “I know that his agent called [Metallurg’s general manager, Gennady] Velichkin. But no decision has been made yet. Crosby has pretty big insurance. I don’t know how they’ll resolve this issue.”

Malkin has been simply dominant for Magnitogorsk, centering the top line with wingers Sergei Mozyakin and Leafs winger Nikolai Kulemin.

4. The KHL is raising the number of NHL players that each team is allowed from three to six. Will this affect the number of players coming over to play? I doubt many players are going to head over to Europe before Christmas, but I could definitely see a number going over after. Even if hockey does return in late January, a few weeks of games would be a terrific way to get in shape for what would be a very intense and condensed regular season.

3. San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski took some time to adjust to the KHL game, and he is really starting to figure it out as of late. The crafty center/winger has been playing in Minsk during the lockout, and he had only one assist in his first seven games with the club. Since that time, he has 11 points in nine games. Pavelski is a player who has more to give offensively, and his time will come if and when the Sharks decide to make some changes to their forward group.

2. Sticking with the Sharks, forward Logan Couture has returned to North America after spending a few months in Switzerland playing for Geneva. Couture reflects on his time:

“The best thing? The food is good. Cheese, chocolate.* The mountains were really cool to drive around,” Couture says of his Swiss adventure. “It’s a nice city.”

And the reasons for his return?

“For Couture — a London, Ont., native drafted ninth overall in 2007 by the Sharks — homesickness played a part in his decision. If his Twitter feed is any indication, the forward bided his time devouring season upon season of good television (Dexter, The Office, Walking Dead, and Homeland are just a few that get shoutouts) and getting his heart broken by the Buffalo Bills.”

I feel bad for Couture – not because he is locked out, but because he has to follow the Buffalo Bills every week. That is something that no sports fan should have to endure. Couture did provide hockey fans with this beauty of a play during his time in Geneva:

And Geneva is rumoured to be signing Calgary forward Mike Cammalleri to replace Couture on the roster.

1. Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul didn’t last long in the KHL, and he shared his thoughts on the significant cultural differences.

““It got lonely. I now have an appreciation for the young Russian hockey players coming over here. Some who’ve never been outside of Russia.”

As Lupul related on his blog, he can now empathize fully with how young Russians like former teammate Stanislav Chistov felt living in a foreign land. On a first Anaheim Ducks road trip, Chistov had only a toothbrush with him.”

I guess these players are realizing that things aren’t so bad for them over here in North America. Lupul had only five points in nine games – as Couture explained in his interview with Sportsnet, and as Pavelski’s slow start indicated, there is a significant adjustment to playing hockey in Europe, regardless of the league.

Here is a highlight of Lupul in the KHL – he doesn’t really do much of anything in this video, but I guess that accurately describes his time there:

If and when the NHL does return, the players who have been over in Europe will likely have an advantage out of the gate – less rust, less cobwebs to shake off. However, as the season progresses, they may be more susceptible to fatigue and injury compared to the players who have remained in North America playing shinny and working out. The proposed 48-game season is going to be very intense, and health will play an even bigger factor in a team’s success than it usually does.