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Hudler's KHL Deal a Sign of Things to Come?

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For the most part, the sort of players who have been turning their backs on the NHL and signing contracts with Russia’s Continental Hockey League (KHL) come from one of two camps: either they’re young Russians who don’t like the idea of leaving home and spending a few years riding a bus in the minors or Canadian juniors; or, they’re former stars like Alexei Yashin or Jaromir Jagr in search of one last big payday. ↵

↵Detroit’s Jiri Hudler doesn’t fit either profile. Just 25, the young Czech is coming off his finest NHL season, having scored 23 goals and 57 points while only averaging about 13:30 of ice time per game for the defending Western Conference champs. A restricted free agent, Hudler opted for arbitration with the Red Wings before apparently signing a two-year contract with Dynamo Moscow of the KHL that’s reportedly worth about $5 million per season. ↵

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↵Since the resolution of the lockout, the NHL salary cap has risen at the end of every season, but that may be about to change. Going into the 2009-10 NHL campaign, the cap only rose about $100,000, and while that modest increase hasn’t yet affected the sort of offers given to the top unrestricted free agents in the league, there’s little doubt that a continued global economic slowdown will more than likely lead to cap growth to be flat or possibly even to contract in 2010-11. ↵

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↵And when that happens, look for NHL general managers to be counting their greenbacks and loonies even more carefully. In turn, we ought to expect that players like Hudler — a solid talent but not yet a superstar — coming off their first NHL contracts are going to give the KHL a serious second look. ↵

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↵Please don’t misunderstand me, as I don’t want to underplay just how hard it can be for a player to leave North America to play in Russia. There’s culture shock, there’s a language barrier to consider, and as everyone knows, the creature comforts of life in the NHL simply aren’t available in Russia right now. ↵

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↵Then again, the bottom line for every NHL player is going to be different, and when the difference is up to $2 million per season as it seems to have been the case with Hudler, we shouldn’t be surprised that a fraction of the league’s players are simply going to opt out. ↵

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