NHL fans should have been preparing to attend training camps this week, but the breakdown in CBA negotiations has put the league on hold for the foreseeable future.
No NHL season means that hockey is effectively off the TV screens in the United States. However, that doesn't mean there isn't hockey to watch. Players have started to head overseas to play hockey while they wait for the lockout to end.
The Stars haven't had the mass exodus like some teams have, but a couple of players have gone overseas, with a few more possibly on their way. Overall though, Stars fans won't be seeing much of the players that they love unless the lockout ends. It would be a surprise if more than three Stars players go overseas. A majority will just stay in the area and work out to stay in shape.
Here are the leagues and teams that Stars fans should try to keep an eye on this season (extended off-season?) in order to keep up with the players on the team (or if they just want to watch good competitive hockey).
Texas Stars (AHL) - Austin, TX
The easiest place for (local) Stars fans to watch hockey will be down in Austin, where the Stars' minor league team plays. There's really nothing new for Stars fans here and tickets should be pretty easy to get. The future of the team is here and the influx of talent from the locked out teams will provide good competition for the Stars youngsters.
The Texas Stars will be able to add NHL ready players in Tomas Vincour, Brenden Dillon, Cody Eakin and Reilly Smith as a result of the lockout.
If Stars fans are waiting for an exciting game to watch, any game against the Oklahoma City Barons should be fantastic (there're 12 matchups between the two teams this season). OKC will have the services of young superstars Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
The Texas Stars' season starts on Oct. 3.
The AHL can be seen online, but it's going to cost a pretty penny ($350 for full access, $150 for all the games of just your favorite team).
Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and Western Hockey League (WHL) - All part of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL)
The next best spot for Stars fans to watch hockey would be the CHL (which is made up of the OHL, QMJHL and WHL), where a number of Stars prospects are playing this season:
F Radek Faksa - Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
F Brett Ritchie - Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
F Gemel Smith - Owen Sound Attack (OHL)
F Mike Winther - Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
F Matej Stransky - Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
D Branden Troock - Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
G Maxime Lagacé - Prince Edward Island Rocket (QMJHL)
D Troy Vance - Victoriaville Tigres (QMJHL)
Each of these leagues will cost a fair amount of money for online streams so unless you sleep on a bed of money; it's going to be awfully tough to watch all three leagues.
If you're going to spend money on any of them, spend it on the OHL ($290 for full access, $180 for your favorite team) and watch the Kitchener Rangers. Faksa is the Stars best prospect and should dominate the OHL this season. He'll be fun to watch.
Swedish Elitserien (Swedish Elite League)
The Elitserien had made it illegal for any of their teams to sign a locked-out NHL player to a short-term contract but the Swedish government actually stepped in last week and declared that illegal.
The NHL is full of top Swedish talent so there should be a good number of players heading to Sweden. The names from the Stars to watch here are Tom Wandell, Philip Larsen and most importantly, Loui Eriksson.
Wandell's last season before starting his Stars career was with Timra IK, a lower level team in the top division. Larsen and Eriksson spent a good part of their careers with Frolunda HC, one of the better teams.
Neither has made the move over, though Eriksson has recently been in talks to rejoin the team, (you'll need a translation for all the Swedish) so there should be a move soon.
There are three prospects in the Stars system already playing in the Elitserien:
F Emil Molin - Brynas IF
D Ludvig Bystrom - Modo
D John Klingberg - Skelleftea AIK
This is the only overseas league so far that a Stars player has already gone to in order to play some hockey. Jaromir Jagr is currently playing for Kladno, a team that he actually owns. His team has already seen four other players from around the NHL join him, so he's playing some high level hockey right now.
I have no idea where to find streams for this league though, so Youtube highlights and box scores might be the best Stars fans can do.
Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) - Russia:
There are six teams here and there from Central European countries, but this is mostly still a Russian league. It's usually where most NHL players go during the lockout, but the Stars have not had any players head over to the KHL yet, possibly because they have no Russian players on the pro roster.
Stars fans don't need to watch this league yet as a result, unless they want to watch NHL superstars like Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Games for the KHL can be seen online here, which I haven't had problems with yet. There are probably a few others but this seems to work pretty well. A few Swedish league games can be found here too.
There could be some games on American TV in the near future if the lockout continues, so this might be the only hockey fans can watch.
SM-liiga - Finland:
This is the top league in Finland and traditionally a place where the Stars find a good amount of their overseas talent.
There have been a few players around the league that have gone over to Finland, but none from the Dallas Stars so far. Kari Lehtonen spent a good number of years playing for the Jokerit youth team and he could always go back there, though there has not been any indication of that so far. He's really the only Stars player I can see traveling to Finland.
Dallas may not be exporting a bunch of players, but they have a couple of draftees playing in the Finnish league this year in G Henri Kiviaho (KalPa Kuopio) and D Esa Lindell (Jokerit Helsinki),
There are a few other leagues in Europe, but very few players go there and the Stars have no ties to any of those other leagues. Most of the current team will just be skating around in the area to stay in shape and try to wait out the lockout. The Stars are just one of those teams that aren't exporting many of their players.