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Returning to Mother Russia May Be No-Brainer

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↵Earlier this year when Nashville Predators winger Alexander Radulov walked out on the last year of his contract with the team to return to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), a lot of folks asked whether or not the move presented a real threat to NHL teams who had Russian players under contract. But if more recent events are taken into account, one wonders if it's AHL rosters that might begin to feel the pinch a whole lot sooner. ↵

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↵Last week, Montreal Canadiens prospect Pavel Valentenko returned to Russia ostensibly to take care of some personal business. But once he got there, it turned out that the business he was looking to transact was to sign a three-year contract with Dynamo Moscow, one of the premier teams in the KHL. Though Valentenko told Sovetsky Sport that he had informed Montreal of his decision to play in the KHL ahead of time, the news seemed to come as a surprise to the team's front office. ↵

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↵Another Canadian NHL team found itself over a similar barrel over the weekend. Ottawa Senators prospect Alexander Nikulin, scratched from the Binghamton Senators lineup on Saturday night, demanded that the team trade him by Monday, or else he'd head back to Russia where he'd presumably be readily employed by one of many eager KHL teams. The Senators met Nikulin's deadline by dealing him to the Phoenix Coyotes for minor leaguer Drew Fata. ↵

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↵Ottawa GM Bryan Murray said Nikulin had tanked his own value thanks to his very public threat to walk, but the urge to go back to Russia makes sense on plenty of levels. ↵

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↵First off, there's the economic incentive. The AHL pay scale pales in comparison to the NHL’s, as well as the KHL’s. For Russian prospects facing the possibility of playing in the AHL for a number of years before breaking into the senior circuit, playing in the minors means forgoing a much larger, tax-free paycheck back home. ↵

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↵Every athlete has an expiration date, and nobody knows when his time is going to come. It's hard to blame a young player for doing all he can to maximize his prime earning years. ↵

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↵Furthermore, the possibility that not every Russian prospect is immediately able to cope with the tremendous culture shock that comes with living in North America cannot be discounted. Heck, if Larry Bird decided that he couldn't play for Bobby Knight in his own home state, why is it such a mystery when a player who moved halfway around the world and got airdropped into a completely different culture gets a little homesick? Like it or not, not every Russian player is going to come with the sort of energy and cosmopolitan flair displayed by Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin. ↵

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↵Of course, there’s a way out for every single NHL club: find a way to complete a new player transfer agreement with the Russian Hockey Federation. It's the lack of such an agreement that's left a tremendous loophole in every NHL contract. Don't forget, thanks to the absence of a player transfer agreement, the option these Russian players have already exercised is available to each and every player in the league, no matter what nationality they happen to be. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.