It seems as though the battle between the NHL and the KHL is just heating up. Speaking with SportsDaily.ru on Tuesday, KHL president Alexander Medvedev fired shots at the NHL, saying that the league's new CBA might allow players to stay in Russia instead of returning to North America.
Via Slava Malamud:
KHL Prez Medvedev to SportsDaily.ru: New CBA may be basis for terminating existing contracts, some players will stay.— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 9, 2013
More Medvedev. "NHL's opinion of itself is so high... OK, let them get drunk on their greatness. We'll see how many Euros look our way"— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 9, 2013
And more Medvedev. "Our league will act according to our own and international rules. If players decide to stay, we will help them."— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) January 9, 2013
Most Russian and European players have already come back to the NHL as the lockout winds down and they prepare for training camps.
Alex Ovechkin and Ilya Bryzgalov were two players who were outspoken against the NHL during the lockout, threatening to stay in Russia if the NHL was going to roll back salaries. But Ovechkin was on the ice in Northern Virginia with Capitals teammates Tuesday, as was Bryzgalov in Southern New Jersey with Flyers teammates, looking quite happy to be back, in fact. Vladimir Tarasenko is coming over and will play for the Blues, Evgeni Malkin is back and Pavel Datsyuk appears to be on his way.
But then there's Lubomir Visnovsky, who plans on staying in the KHL -- perhaps because his NHL option is the New York Islanders, perhaps for others reasons. And then there's Ilya Kovalchuk, who certainly seems like he's at least contemplating staying in Russia and leaving some ~$87 million from the New Jersey Devils on the table.
While the NHL's Bill Daly continues to say that the leagues have a transfer agreement and that they've promised each other they'll honor that agreement, these comments from Medvedev seem to point otherwise. It appears as though we have a league that's willing to go to bat for its players against the NHL, and we may even have a national government willing to throw its money at these players, too. Seriously.
The biggest wrench in all of this? The looming 2014 Sochi Olympics. The NHL's new CBA does not mention participation in the Olympics, and while the IIHF, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are expected to all lobby the league to sign off on allowing players to participate in the games, it's still a sticky subject for Gary Bettman. He's forced to close his league down for two weeks in the middle of the playoff race, and in doing so, he's risking injury to basically every star player he has.
Russian stars all want to play in the Sochi games, for obvious reasons, and the KHL clearly wants the world's best players in Russia for the Olympics as well. Will they go to war with the NHL now over contracts while the NHL holds the Olympics decision up in the air?
It's just another wrinkle in what's quickly becoming hockey's Cold War.