The Detroit Red Wings lost Jiri Hudler, the New York Rangers said goodbye to Nikolai Zherdev, and rumors abound on Alex Ovechkin’s tug of war with the media on his loyalty to the NHL or the KHL. Olympic hockey teams have squared off, with top Russians player playing for the homeland the patriotic conflict has become a competitive nagging ache to the NHL.
According to an article in USA Today, “the reality is Russian players are disappearing from the NHL landscape. Only 23 Russians (and nine more from former Soviet republics) are playing full-time in the NHL today, compared with 87 total in 2000-01.” The Kontinental Hockey League in its sophomore year has enticed players to come back home. Such was the case with veteran Sergei Federov, who may have been seen as over- the-hill, despite the Washington Capitals desire to resign the three time Stanley Cup champ, who also was the first Russian player to reach 1,000 NHL points. Illya Bryzgalov has been in question whether he will stay in the league. In the same article he offers his view, “They are paying good money over there,” said the Phoenix Coyotes goaltender. “If you can earn as much as you can here, why wouldn’t you want be in your home country, with your friends and family watching?”
Will the Olympics bring tears to the eyes of the Russian players who may see another side to their homeland? Comradely could play an interesting role in next seasons NHL’s configurations. Bryzgalov is expected to start for Team Russia, along with Washington Capitals’ Simeon Varlamov, and San Jose Sharks’ Evgeny Nabokov. Other Russian starters include Detroit Red Wings’Pavel Datsyuk, Atlanta Thrasher’s Maxim Afinogenov, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin, Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin and former NHL star Sergei Federov.
Atlanta Thrashers’ Illya Kovalchuk has asked for more money to stay in Atlanta, but no contract extension has been signed yet. Rumors have indicated he may flee to the KHL if offered more money. If a player receives an offer from an NHL club, his KHL club has the right to offer him more (to leave the player in KHL) regardless of salary cap. The same if a KHL club wants to entice a player from the NHL – the salary of enticed player is not counted for salary cap. Interesting note, KHL’s President Alexander Medvedev visited with Kovalchuk, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently. In an article from the Toronto Star, “Hey, we can afford to pay more than the NHL right now,” a high-ranking executive with the Russian league said. “Our economy is commodities-based so we’re not going through the same problems that you have in America.”
Many players want to play in the NHL as opposed to the KHL due to rules and standards. One blogger, KUN, from Canada on the International Hockey Forum indicated, “If the KHL copies everything exactly like the NHL, it will be nothing but a dupe or knockoff league. It won’t appeal to the larger extent of Europe possibly, a market they need. Smaller rinks will affect Russian style regional play, if the rinks become smaller, it’s a given. Do RSL supporters want that? When the WHA competed up against the NHL they had two distinctive things that made them popular. Fighting and Blood.”
A series of KHL brawls resulted in 840 penalty minutes causing the game to be called less than four minutes in when both teams ran out of eligible players. Players left the penalty box in a single-file line to join in the scrap, including former New York Ranger Jaromir Jagr, now a member of Avangard Omsk. Dropping his gloves. Jagr was good and pissed off, specifically at Darcy Verot, who started the whole mess earlier during warm-ups by shooting a puck at one of Jagr’s teammates. The players were fined as the NHL has implemented in fervor.
Check out the chaos at: KHL Brawl
I offer you an example of other rough play in Russian leagues: Russian Brawl
The NHL’s rule on head hits have been scrutinized and revamped based on crucial injuries and unsportsmanlike conduct in Bettman’s proper game. Alexander Ovechkin has been on the suspension side of rough hits because he’s a physical player. But NHL brawls have not achieved the unruly status of the KHL brawl. Hey, but then again it’s hockey. Whether in Russia, Sweden or the States, players will play for their love of the game or money. Really it’s a matter of a player’s individual preferences. The controversy of the NHL versus the KHL is good competition in a market where another hockey league can utilize more players. The NHL needs some stiff wake up calls to compete on a global scale, where hockey is celebrated as a national sport not a marketing nightmare.