Tuesday afternoon brought the most tantalizing tease we've seen so far in the 2012 (-13?) NHL lockout.
The indefatigable Dmitry Chesnokov of Yahoo! Sports and Puck Daddy was first to report that NHL players looking to play in Europe during the lockout had not yet gotten their transfer cards taken care of.
An IIHF transfer card is needed for any player participating in any tournament under the IIHF umbrella. It is sort of a permit to play. The KHL and every hockey league in Europe is under the IIHF umbrella. The KHL had its run-ins with the international hockey governing body before, when the IIHF either refused or delayed issuing transfer cards, like in the case with Alex Radulov.
Many people -- including me -- thought this could be something worth following. Backhand Shelf writer Justin Bourne, a former college and pro hockey player, tweeted that this could bring along a quick end to a lockout that doesn't look to have an end anywhere in sight. Bourne's theory was solid. The idea was that players wouldn't want to go without paychecks of any kind for a year. Playing in glorified "beer leagues" where players got together and rented their own ice wasn't going to satisfy the itch.
Unfortunately, the IIHF doesn't appear to be blocking anything. Instead, it's just slow. Back to Chesnokov's story, which was updated later Tuesday with information from Syzmon Szemberg of the IIHF.
Whenever a club has signed a player to personal contract, the club that has recruited the player must start the international transfer card (ITC) procedure. Most likely, a professional club either has a card in the club office or acquires one from its national federation.
An ITC needs three signatures -- outgoing federation, ingoing federation and the player -- to be approved by the IIHF; and when it has the three signatures, the IIHF immediately approves the transfer, informing the relevant parties that the player is cleared to play.
The IIHF never stalls or delays any transfers. As soon as it has the three approvals, the player is good to go.
Szemberg added that if there is no approval from the outgoing federation within seven days, the IIHF will get a hold of the federation and take care of approving the transfer if the federation doesn't provide a good reason not to.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Yahoo! that the league plays no role in the IIHF's decisions on transfer cards.
It appears that this was all much ado about nothing. Players who have signed deals in Europe are making their way there as of Wednesday morning, U.S. time. I would think at least some of them could start appearing in games as soon as this weekend.
Most players will choose the KHL, though some will go to other countries. It seems likely none of them will play in Sweden, as the Swedish Elite League is refusing to honor contracts that include out clauses to get players back to the NHL once (if) the lockout ends.
Someone (anyone) blocking international transfers of NHL players could have made for a good story. It also should have seemed unlikely to most of us. The IIHF and NHL aren't exactly best buddies in the hockey world (Rene Fasel -- pictured above -- and Gary Bettman likely aren't Facebook pals, I'm suggesting). To suggest that the NHL could successfully request the IIHF not allow such moves would be practically preposterous, given the current climate of their relationship.
That said, it's an example of the kind of story that can blow up when presented to hockey fans who are looking for any sign of hope that this dispute will end with a minimal number of 2012-13 games impacted.
Perhaps we'll get some real news this week. Of course, that would involve real negotiation, and it doesn't seem anyone's in a real hurry on that. Yet.