No NHL season yet, so Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom bound for Russia

The NHL’s latest offer to the Players’ Association to end the lockout generated some optimism this week. There was talk about an 82-game season and regular-season hockey as soon as Nov. 2.

But then Thursday, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom officially made his move to Europe, signing with Dynamo Moscow of Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League to reunite with teammate Alex Ovechkin.

“Ovechkin’s been calling since he came to Moscow,” Backstrom told Swedish news agency SVT. “It’ll be fun.”

Following negative developments in negotiations Thursday, it appears Backstrom won’t just be going on a weeklong European vacation. Instead, more squabbling could lead to a lengthy lockout.

It’s unclear if Backstrom had an idea before signing with Dynamo that things were going to go sour; multiple reports indicated that players were optimistic about getting a deal done after conference calls Wednesday and Thursday.

That went out the window when commissioner Gary Bettman addressed reporters in Toronto and told them the NHLPA’s multiple counterproposals represented “a step backward.”

“It’s clear that we’re not speaking the same language in terms of what they came back to us with,” Bettman said.

Given that a deal would have needed to be consummated by next week in order to get a Nov. 2 start and a full season, that appears unlikely given the direction of talks. NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr said all three offers presented to owners were rejected within 15 minutes, even though all three got to a 50/50 split of hockey-related revenue over time.

The players’ main contention appears to be the need for the league to honor existing contracts without withholding money in escrow. For that to happen, it would be difficult to drop to an even split right away.

So that leaves more players in Backstrom’s position: looking for a place to earn a living while missing NHL paychecks. Agent Marc Levine, who confirmed the Caps center’s signing Thursday afternoon, had said he was looking at a number of options for his client.

Obviously, as with most contracts signed by locked-out players, Backstrom’s deal would have an out clause when the work stoppage is over. But that he ended up going to Russia and not a team in his native Sweden seemed to be an indication that he was making a long-term commitment. Not a bad bet given the pessimism that now surrounds collective bargaining talks.

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