NHL lockout: Crosby closer to playing overseas

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Sidney Crosby has yet to settle on a country, let alone select a team.

Even so, he acknowledged Monday that the chances of him playing in Europe this winter have improved significantly of late as the NHL lockout continues.

And while he hasn't booked a flight across the Atlantic Ocean just yet, Crosby made it clear that playing there has moved beyond the theoretical stage.

Well beyond it, actually.

"You know what? It's a lot more possible right now," Crosby said after a player-organized workout at Southpointe. "I probably hadn't thought about it quite as much as I have the past few days.

"It's definitely been something ... with the way things are looking now, it's not looking too good."

Crosby made those observations a few hours before news broke that federal mediators will get involved in the dispute between the NHL and the NHL Players' Association. The mediation is nonbinding.

The lockout has shut down the league since mid-September. There have been no negotiations in nearly a week, although there are indications that the parties and mediators will get together Wednesday.

Games through Dec. 14 have been canceled, and the league acknowledged weeks ago that it will not be possible to play an 82-game schedule in 2012-13.

"Hopefully, we can still get a good chunk of games in, if we figure something out," Crosby said.

That might happen, but it's entirely possible that even if the NHL does get back in business at some point this winter, it won't happen until after Crosby has spent some time in Europe.

He said that his agent, Pat Brisson, has spoken with multiple teams in Russia -- where teammate Evgeni Malkin is playing for his hometown club, Metallurg Magnitogorsk -- and Switzerland, and did not rule out discussions with teams in other countries.

Brisson could not be reached for comment, but this fall projected that insuring Crosby's contracts with the Penguins -- before the lockout, they were scheduled to pay him $111.9 million over 13 seasons -- could cost between $200,000 and $400,000, a fee that likely would be borne by the European club that lands him.

Presumably, that insurance would be pro-rated to reflect Crosby playing less than a full season.

"I don't know, specifically, if I've gotten to that point where I'm looking at [particular] teams, but I think I'm more or less thinking that playing is becoming a little more and more important here, the longer we go," Crosby said. "Especially in my case, where I've missed so much hockey in the last little bit."

A concussion limited him to 41 games in 2010-11 and the lingering effects of that, along with a neck injury, forced him from the lineup for all but 22 games last season.

While it's conceivable that the fresh eyes and ears of the mediators will help the negotiators to develop and maintain traction, the talks to this point have been sporadic and unproductive. That, Crosby suggested, has compounded the exasperation players feel about being idled.

"I think a lot of guys are frustrated with ... the not talking," he said. "We understand the business side, that there are negotiations and proposals going back and forth, that kind of thing.

"But I think the whole process is frustrating. If we really want to get something done, I feel like we have to be there every single day, no matter what.

"Whether or not that's going to happen, I don't know, but the process is probably more frustrating than anything."

Crosby has steadfastly supported the NHLPA before and during the lockout, but defended the right of players such as defenseman Romas Hamrlik and goaltender Michal Neuvirth, both of Washington, to express opinions critical of the union.

"They have a right to say what they think," Crosby said. "To be honest, to get 750 guys to have the exact same outlook on every single detail is pretty tough. Pretty much impossible."

Whether the same will be true of forging a new CBA in time to salvage at least a portion of the 2012-13 season could become more evident over the next few weeks.

That means Crosby and hundreds of colleagues will continue to monitor every twist and wrinkle in the negotiations, something few likely anticipated when choosing their line of work.

"This whole process, it wears on you a little bit," Crosby said. "This isn't what we grew up thinking hockey is about.

"It's unfortunate it's come to this point, but you need to get that enjoyment back, the fun side of the game. And that's being out there playing."

Even if, in his case, it means crossing an ocean sometime soon to do it.

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Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter: @MolinariPG. First Published November 27, 2012 5:00 AM


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