No NHL, no problem. While the lockout drags on, there's plenty of topflight hockey to follow across the sport's sprawling landscape. Much of it is already underway. Here's the best of what to watch, and where.
If you're looking to follow major NHL stars, overseas is a very good place to start. Along with the assorted top pro leagues below, there's also the IIHF World Championship tournament (May 3-19) in Stockholm and Helsinki to look forward to, but hopefully the lockout won't last that long. Last May, a stacked Russian team featuring Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk rolled to the gold. (Fans of the women's game will get their edition April 2-9 at Scotiabank place in Ottawa.)
Useful websites includeInternational Ice Hockey FederationandElite Hockey Prospects. Besides the continually updated list of NHLers who are playing elsewhere during the lockout, you'll find rosters, stats and league pages from around the wide world of hockey.
The KHL is the current, if temporary, home of more than 30 NHL players, including major stars Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Zdeno Chara, Pavel Datsyuk and Pekka Rinne. Regarded as the second-best international hockey league in the world, its season began in September and each of its teams will play a 52-game regular schedule that ends on February 17. Postseason play includes 16 teams and four rounds, with the two finalists competing for the Gagarin Cup -- named for the famed cosmonaut.
An offshoot of the Russian Superleague (which ended in 2008), the KHL inherited 20 teams from the RSL and has since expanded to 26. Twenty of them are based in Russia, the other six in Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Ukraine. Former NHL notables Sergei Zubov, Sandis Ozolinsh, Sergei Fedorov and Richard Zednik finished their careers in the KHL. Players going the other way, especially top young homegrown talent such as Evgeni Malkin, who ducked out on Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2006 to join the Pittsburgh Penguins, have created controversy or squabbles between Russian clubs and the NHL.
• Dynamo Moscow: The defending champions, who now feature Alex Ovechkin, have reached at least the quarterfinals in every KHL season. Ovie will be looking to get the edge back on his game and buff up his reputation after a down and sometimes criticized 2011-12 season with the Washington Capitals. As Igor Larin of Sports-Express told The New York Times, "[The KHL] has players that are just as good (as NHL stars), but we don't promote them like the North Americans do. For me, the greatest intrigue of the lockout is just how much these players have been overhyped."
• Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: A year after its roster was decimated in a plane crash, the rebuilt "Loko" started the season in first place in the Western Division at 8-0-3. Coached by an American, Tom Rowe, a former assistant on Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup winner, and featuring three NHLers (Seymon Varlamov, Artem Anisimov, Dmitry Kulikov) and a balanced offense, Lokomotiv may prove to be the most uplifting story of the hockey season.
• Metallurg Magnitogorsk: This team probably acquired the best crop of NHL talent in Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, and it has a scoring machine in forward Sergei Mozyakin. "Magnitka" also features veteran defender Oleg Tverdovsky, who played 12 seasons for a variety of NHL teams.
• Dinamo Minsk: One of the six squads outside of Russia, and the only one in Belarus, its mascot is a miffed buffalo and its captain is former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jere Karalahti, 37, who has had a troubled but fascinating trek through pro hockey. (SI Vault:"High Times" by Kostya Kennedy, Jan. 21, 2002)
• D Kevin Dallman, SKA St. Petersburg: Unable to find a regular role in the NHL, he left for the KHL in 2008 and became a four-time All-Star and one of the league's most respected defensemen. Now with St. Petersburg after four highly successful seasons with Barys Astana in Kazakhstan, Dallman was declared persona non grata in that country after his wife, Stacy, criticized the government in a blog post. She had been active in supporting the wives who lost husbands in the Lokomotiv plane crash.
• RW Alexander Radulov, CSKA Moscow: Formerly a highly coveted player, his pathetic postseason falling out with the Nashville Predators may have ruined his reputation in North America (well, it did with Keith Jones at least), but if he has a strong season in the KHL, it will be interesting to see if any NHL team wants to take a chance on him, or if he's even interested in coming back.
• RW Nail Yakupov, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk: See what the fuss is about. The top overall pick, by the Edmonton Oilers, in the 2012 NHL Draft decided to go home and play instead of skate with the Sarnia Sting, his junior team in the OHL. After a brief suspension while his transfer paperwork was sorted out, and a slow start, Yakupov broke through with three goals in two games (plus two more in a shootout) and earned the KHL's rookie of the week honor.
• G Ilya Bryzgalov, CSKA Moscow: Philadelphia's eccentric, entertaining (not always if you're a Flyers fan) netminder is hopefully focusing on his game (a little suggestion by GM Paul Holmgren after last season's playoff disappointment). He's also been speaking his mind. "I think some of the players may not return to the NHL because you have everything here and major companies are going to pay the top players here big money" he told TSN. "And, especially for Russians players who can play at home in front of their own fans and families and [earn] even bigger money than they have in the National Hockey League. The KHL can't feed all the players, but for some big players -- especially those with Russian passports -- it might be a threat."
• ESPN3: Seven games were initially scheduled for broadcast, starting Oct. 9, with more to come.
DEITSCH:KHL's ESPN debut surreal
• Kontinental Hockey League
• Hockey Blog In Canada
• Elite Hockey Prospects
• Oct. 24: SKA St. Petersburg at Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Led by Dallman and NJ Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, SKA St. Petersburg raced out to an 8-3 start with the rivitalized Lokomotiv.
• Oct. 25: CSKA Moscow at Lev Praha. A chance (if you care) to check in on Alex Radulov as he, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov face off against Zdeno Chara's side.
• Jan. 28: Metallurg Magnitogorsk at Dynamo Moscow. The first overseas edition of "Ovechkin vs. Malkin" (they've had a nice little rivalry, if you recall) was won by Malkin's side, 2-0.
• April 7-19: The KHL decides its champion with the best-of-seven Gagarin Cup final.
In the wake of the lockout, Switzerland, which has had national clubs since 1909, acquired some top NHL talent. Patrice Bergeron, Henrik Zetterberg, John Tavares, Rick Nash, Jason Spezza, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture have headed for the Alps. There are 12 teams in the National A circuit and each plays 50 games. The top eight clubs qualify for the playoffs and the finals are decided by a best-of-seven series.
• SC Bern: The league's marquee team has led Europe in attendance for 10 straight seasons and draws on average about 2,000 more fans per game than second-place Dinamo Minsk of the KHL. Bern has won the Swiss championship 12 times, most recently in 2010, and hosted the New York Rangers in a 2008 exhibition. During the 2004-05 lockout, Dany Heatley, Marc Savard and Daniel Briere played for Bern. John Tavares and Mark Streit of the Islanders as well as the Predators' Roman Josi are the current rentals.
• Geneva-Servette: GSHC raced out to the top of the standings with an 8-1-0 record and is looking to return to the NLA finals after finishing way outside the pack last season. The team features two NHL notables: Logan Couture and Montreal's Yannick Weber (a Swiss national).
• HC Davos: Bern may be the most popular team among the Swiss, but HCD is the most established, and the defending champs. Two elite scoring threats -- Joe Thornton and Rick Nash -- have signed with Davos for the lockout.
• Rapperswil-Jona Lakers: For the fans of speed, high-scoring, and Jason Spezza's laugh, the Lakers may be a nice fit. Spezza's signed on with Switzerland's highest scoring team, which is backstopped by former Colorado Avalanche starter David Aebischer.
• Ev Zug: Forward Damien Brunner, the NLA's top scorer last season and winner of 2011-12 best forward honors, signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings before the lockout and has flashed some scoring touch with 11 points in his first seven games overseas. Winger Linus Omark, 25, has played parts of two seasons for Edmonton after highly successful campaigns in Sweden and Russia. He only made it into 14 games for the hapless Oilers last season, and was eventually demoted to the minors. But he did get off to an excellent start this season, sharing the NLA scoring lead with teammate Brunner.
In action since 1993, after the breakup of Czecholsolvakia, the Tipsport Extraliga (name is sponsored) is the top league in the Czech Republic. There are 14 teams. Six automatically advance to the playoffs, four play for the final two spots, and the bottom four engage in a "play-out," with the last place club taking on the winner of the First League (which is actuallty the second division).
The Extraliga has welcomed over 20 NHL players in the wake of the lockout including Tukka Rask, David Krejci, Michael Roszival, Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky and Tomas Plekanec. Among the NHLers who got their starts there: Zigmund Palffy, Peter Bondra, Zdeno Chara, Miroslav Satan and the late Pavol Demitra (who died in the Lokomotiv Yaroslval plane crash). Development programs have churned out such stars as Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and Andrej Meszaros.
• Rytiri Kladno: It may as well be dubbed the all-lockout squad. Kladno landed Jaromir Jagr, who has the distinction of playing for a team he co-owns with his father, and several other NHL talents including Tomas Plekanec (who got off to a torrid start by leading the league in scoring), Marek Zidlicky, Tomas Kaberle, and Jiri Tlusty (who signed a two-year, $3.2 million deal with the Carolina Hurricanes during the offseason). Kladno will likely suffer offensively, though, should Plekanec, Jagr and Tlusty leave when the lockout is settled.
• HC Plzen 1929: Plzen features one familiar face that the NHL hasn't seen since 2008 (winger Martin Straka), a former New York Rangers tough guy (Ryan Hollweg), and two of the better lockout signings in Bruins goalie Tukka Rask and defenseman Michael Roszival of the Blackhawks.
• Swedish Elite League: The 12-team league is a popular destination for locked out players because for many it is home, and according to hockey-site.com, it's the fourth-highest paying hockey league behind the NHL, KHL and Czech Extraliga. The best players who have arrived in Sweden are Kings' superstar Anze Kopitar (Mora IK) and newly anointed Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog (Allsvenskan).
• German League: The Deutsche Eishockey Liga has attracted some interesting lockout migrants. Rick DiPietro fans will have to see how much SecondBundesliga action the starcrossed, frequently injured Islanders goaltender can survive with SC Riessersee. Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds is skating for Eispiraten Crimmitschau while his teammates, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux, opted to join Eisbären Berlin, a club that traces its roots back to a team of East German police and members of the Ministry for State Security. The Anschutz Entertainment Group now owns Eisbären. LA KIngs owner Phil Anschutz, who is looking to sell the reigning Stanley Cup champions, must like the O2 World Arena more than the Staples Center. Other notables in Germany: Christian Erhoff (Krefeld Pinguine) and Jamie Benn (Hamburg Freezers).
• SMI-liiga Finland: A 14-team league is now the home NHLers Jussi Jokinen (Kärpät), Stephane Robidas (Lukko), Valterri Fippula (Jokerit), Mikkell Boedker (Lukko) and Anti Niemi (Pelicans). Former Sharks and Blues left winger Villie Nieminen (Örebro HK) is enjoying a successful start to the season. The defending champion is JYP, which added the Bruins' Rich Peverley.
• Follow online: Euro Hockey Net, Euro Hockey, Elite Hockey Prospects
• Where to watch: A number of websites claim to offer streaming video of Euro games, including firstrow, Justin TV, Ustream, Freedocast, Veetle, Vipbox and Oleotv. Just be aware that you may be prompted to download all sorts of things, including unwanted add-on browsers and such, and be ready for the odd saucy pop-up. Proceed at your own risk.