If the NHL didn't see how the lockout in 2004 hurt the sport, a lockout in 2012 will make the NHL a questionable fourth major professional sport in the United States. We've gotten all too familiar with players and owners at a negotiating table over the last couple years. The NHL now takes its turn keeping teams and fans wondering how much of a season there will be in 2012-2013.
For the Buffalo Sabres, a lockout, or even a late-starting season could put plans the Sabres may have had for its rookies on hold. In June, the Sabres drafted Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons in the first round. The Russian Grigorenko and the Latvian Girgensons could seek other options to play hockey this year instead of the Sabres.
Grigorenko is the real concern. He's the higher of the draft picks and the more talented player right now. The Sabers were willing to give Grigorenko a chance at a NHL roster spot in the preseason. The Sabres don't have a center over 6-foot. At 6-foot-3, Grigorenko would be a welcomed addition.
When the Sabers drafted Grigorenko, there was speculation on where he would play in 2012. If he wasn't with the Sabres, some thought he could play another season in Canada, or he could go to his home country and play in Russia's KHL. Grigorenko's draft stock fell because teams were afraid he would dart for Russia.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were one of the weariest teams drafting Grigorenko because Russians going to the KHL have burned them before. In 2003, Columbus drafted Nikolay Zherdev from Ukraine, but he left for the KHL during the lockout in 2004.
Columbus drafted Nikita Filatov in 2008. He has only played 53 NHL games since being drafted by the Blue Jackets. The native Russian has had multiple stints playing in his home country instead of the NHL. The Sabres have to be worried Grigorenko could follow in these footsteps this season.
During the NBA lockout, players went overseas to play and NHL players could do the same thing. Grigorenko and the Sabres have said he won't play for Rochester in the AHL. If the NHL season doesn't start on time, Grigorenko will be playing somewhere besides the United States this season.
Girgensons isn't as much of an issue because he signed a contract with the Sabres. If he didn't play for Buffalo, he would have gone to the University of Vermont. By signing with Buffalo, he is forgoing any college career.
Girgensons was likely to start in Rochester, but he may have made a push during the preseason for an NHL spot. Moreover, Girgensons could have been called up to Buffalo during the season if he played well enough in the AHL. With an uncertain season looming, Girgensons may see Europe as an option for this season.
It's hard to get inside the heads of these two European rookies to see what options they have. This might be a moot point if the NHL and its players get its act together and come to terms on a new deal. The Sabres' roster could look much different depending on when the NHL season begins.