Friday, July 18, 2008

A threat or much ado about nothing?

On, Spector (aka Lyle Richardson) writes Russia not a serious threat to poach from NHL.

In the Sporting News, Eric McErlain writes Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League a legitimate threat.
Which is it? That's quickly becoming the question of the summer.

I caught up with Spector yesterday for a wide-ranging on hockey in Russia and his thoughts on the KHL. Here are some of the highlights from our discussion:
Spector: I'm not being overly dismissive but quite frankly if this "no-poaching" agreement stays in effect (which appears doubtful right now) then no one in the NHL will be following Radulov's lead — unless it's as free agents where they can sign wherever they please, and in that instance I suspect more players would prefer to use the threat of a KHL contract as leverage to land more lucrative NHL contracts rather than seriously considering jumping the pond.

As for Radulov's signing, it's significant in that he's been the only truly significant Russian player to sign with them. No offence to his promise, which he has, but considering all the bigger fish the KHL tried and failed to land this summer, if the biggest concern for the NHL is losing the occasional promising talent to the KHL, then it is a minor irritant (especially when you've got Radulov pointing out the Semin situation in Washington as an example of how he could return to the NHL in a couple of years).

Until we see a more significant talent drain than that (the best the KHL has been able to do this summer is sign an ageing Jagr whose best years were spent in the NHL and is heading to retirement in two years and whose first choice was to re-sign with the Rangers, plus Radulov) then it is a minor irritant for the NHL.
James: The KHL is never going to depopulate the NHL. But if a potential 40-goal-a-season star like Radulov is willing to defect, others are too — especially in the future as the American economy goes in the tank and the cap potentially stagnates.

I simply don't agree with the consensus that the KHL is this backwards league no one would want to play in, not when we're seeing some pretty talented stars going there. The Russian developmental system may have had major issues in recent years, but to say there's not great talent that's stayed there's just not accurate — look at the recent world championship, where a team with 13 Super Leaguers beat an all NHL-cast from Canada.

Ovechkin, Malkin, etc., are probably always coming to the NHL. But there were only 14 Russian-born players that played 70 games in the NHL last season.

Minus Radulov, they're down to 13.

I wonder how many more young stars have to leave before Russian representation dips to nearly nothing? Isn't that significant, whatever the reason?

(And losing Radulov's anything but a minor irritant for the Predators. They're toast without him.)
Spector: Right now the KHL is just a super-sized version of the Super League, which until this summer only attracted the has-beens and never-weres. Yes, signing Radulov is their first significant move but compared to their failed attempts earlier this summer to land much bigger fish I'm not convinced that billionaires tossing lots of dollars around is going to be enough to convince more than a tiny number of significant stars to play in the KHL.

As for other defecting, perhaps a few will, I wouldn't rule out the possibility, but again, in the overall scheme I don't see how this would be a problem for the NHL unless those who "defect" are big name stars. Let's face facts here, James, outside of knowledgeable hockey folk like you and I and die-hard Predators fans, who really knows Alexander Radulov? Who's going to miss him other than the Predators? And if they manage to find a replacement for him — tougher than it sounds, granted, but still possible — this season or next, how many Predators fans will miss him then? Is it long term pain for them or merely short term?
James: Isn't this where you and I should step in and talk about how significant a loss Radulov is, and how losing him will decimate a Predators team short on goal scorers?

The fact he jumps ship well after July 1 is pretty convenient, too. How on earth are they supposed to replace him? For under $1-million? They already dealt away Zidlicky and Mason for essentially nothing on the roster.

Is the argument that Radulov won't be missed predicated on general fan (and media) ignorance? Is it a valid one then? If Radulov played for Edmonton, Ottawa or Buffalo, how would that then change the coverage we've seen?
Spector: It remains to be seen if Radulov's loss decimates the Predators or if GM David Poile finds a way to adjust. That being said, I do concede it's a blow to a team starved for offence like the Predators. Again, however, to a certain degree Poile may bear some of the blame if what Radulov said about his wanting to discuss an extension this summer and telling Preds management he'd received offers from Russia.

I also agree with you that the timing of it handcuffs Poile, and it would probably explain why he didn't agree to discuss an extension preferring to stick with his rule of not talking contract with potential RFAs until the season. Poile was probably told by the league that an oral "anti-poaching" agreement was in place and likely felt Radulov was bluffing or perhaps didn't take him seriously about the offers from Russia.

Even if the Preds played in a bigger market, I don't believe it changes the fact that he's been the best the KHL could land this summer. And while he's unquestionably a promising young forward, we don't know for certain if he'd have been able to match or best last season's offensive totals. Again, at the Predators' level, losing him hurts, but in the overall scheme, Radulov's departure is a minor irritant for the league. Losing one or two players of his calibre every year, regardless of nationality, is an irritant. If however we start seeing six, eight or 12 or twenty players of his calibre next summer following his lead, then it becomes a problem.

The only real threat to the NHL is if there were a European superleague but that apparently isn't possible right now, and with the NHL considering expansion into Europe, one has to wonder how long the KHL could be perceived as a significant threat.
James: I don't think it's impossible that the KHL can grab a few other European teams, depending on the dollars involved. We're certainly talking about a large population base over there to support an NHL-type league.
Spector: I believe it's premature to suggest the KHL can attract other European teams at this juncture. As you said, they haven't even started playing games yet and we don't know how well they'll pan out.

A lot of variables are in play right now and the KHL, despite its big dollars, have yet to prove itself a viable, competitive league that'll attract more than has-beens and never-weres on a regular basis.
James: I don't anyone truly knows the answer here, and had Radulov not signed, I would have agreed with you in a lot of ways. But the NHL is going to fight hard to keep him — and the verbal "respect contracts" agreement could go out the window as soon as that starts in earnest.
Spector: Honestly, I don't think the NHL can keep him because ultimately this'll have to wind up in a Russian court, and I really don't think the NHL trusts them. I did have a good chuckle over Medvedev's offer of $200,000 to the Preds in compensation as that's an obvious and in my opinion justified poke in the eye to the NHL for their unfair compensation over the years. Still, that's not gonna win him any points with the NHL and could make this Cold War even frostier.

This new agreement could end up stillborn, in which case it'll be open season, and for entry level players, the KHL will have an advantage because of the NHL's hard cap on those players. During the lockout and the ratification of this CBA, I suggested that could be a problem if a European team were to make a better offer, particularly if there was no transfer agreement in place.

It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out. In the end, the players win because it gives them more options than the NHL to earn big bucks.

Keep in mind that that's only an abridged version of our discussion.

It'd be great to bring move voices in here. Are we potentially looking at an NHL without much Russian representation going forward? And how will Nashville fare without Radulov given they were a borderline playoff team last season?

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At 5:07 a.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I've been here number of times trying to tell everybody that KHL is not really that big of a deal.

Talking about Radulov is a joke. NHL could lose Ovechkin or Malkin or both and KHL would still be Russian league and NHL the best league in the world.

When Trottier and Gretzky won those Cups who was complaining that we didn't have Russians?

And the fact is that we do have the absolute best Russians so why this debate?

Did Ovechkin or Malkin go back to Russia? Kovalchuk? Zubov? Fedorov?
Kozlov? Another Kozlov? Stanley Cup, Selke and Lady Byng winner Dats.. something.

Ok, The Great Saprykin in playing in Russia but hopefully Nigel Dawes or some other superstar can replace him. Please.

Niko Kapanen, Chris Simon, Tony Martensson. Mattias Weinhandl, Esa Pirnes... We lost all of these and now we have to get by with Crosby, Lecavalier, Heatley, Nash, Iginla and other stiffs.

I don't even understand this so called debate. There's nothing there.

Who has been in Magnitogorsk, Omsk or Doncherrypolovskaja? If you have a choice and you're not Russian why would you go there?

Money? They won't pay as much as NHL so where's the beef? If the level of hockey is lesser, money for top players is lesser, if the country basically sucks, if there's nothing there why would anybody really care?

Most of KHL teams can't pay even a million dollars to their top players. It's a fact. But it's tax free!!! Yeah, it's then two million bucks before taxes in a shitty country like Canada.

Last time I checked some NHL player made more than two million?

KHL is Hasselhof of Oscars. Not there, yet. Never will be.

At 5:44 a.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In spite of an anti-poaching agreement, the KHL has succeeded in getting Radulov to break his contact with only a single year left. I can not see how people are dismissive of this. If they did not intend to poach from the NHL, why does the KHL have a category of cap-exempted ex-NHL players?

There are 690 NHL jobs. Assume that the KHL are not going to get anyone in the top half. How many of the lower-paid 345 does it take until its significant? Certainly its less than 50. Who fills in for them?

Unlike the WHA before them, the KHL does not draw on the same fanbase. As their on-ice product improves, will they attract more fans? How long will it take for an international UEFA-style tournament to be set up to attract the interest of the strongest franchises of the other European leagues? Is MoDo Sweden's Manchester United? Is Sparta Praha the Czech Republic's AC Milan? Unlike the WHA, a future merger will not resolve this due to geography.

The AHL should be extremely concerned. An elementary schoolmate of mine, Tim Tookey was inducted into the AHL HOF after 15 seasons as a pro. He had 106 games in the NHL and 529 games in the AHL. Would life in the KHL be more enticing to a player like this than busing around the Northeast US? If I had a relationship with Mr. Tookey, I could ask him.

The KHL appears to be in this for the long haul. As it grows, it will stabilize and become a much more viable alternative for North American talent. Until now, the rest of the world's boys left home for the AHL and a chance at the best league in the world. Soon, players that we take for granted will not hang around to make league minimum for lesser roles. Good luck getting a talented 21 year-old to sign a second contract with a two-way clause. He's outta here.

The KHL is intentionally positioned to be an alternative for the less-than-satisfied NHL players and players that are 'knocking on the door', not the top-level talent.

What is the future of the Nashville, Florida and Carolina franchises when 50 NHL-capable players and another 50 career AHLers decide to play overseas? Sorry for adding to an already overly-long comment, but we are not into their first season yet and how many players have they enticed so far?

How about 22:
Salavat Yulaev: Radulov
Lokomotiv: Vasicek
Metallurg: Pilar
Ak Bars: Dubielewicz, Kapanen
CSKA: Khomutov
SKA: Zyuzin
Dinamo: Rachunek, Tolpeko
Severstal: Kwiatkowski, Krog
Atlant: Emery
Avangard: Grahame, Jagr
Spartak: Baranka, Radivojevic, Ruzicka
Amur: Lampman, Wanvig
Vityaz: Simon
Dinamo Riga: Hossa, Ellison

I think the KHL could raise ticket prices because they have succeeded in signing these players. Will the NHL reduce ticket prices because these jobs are filled with less-capable players? Yeah, right.

Brian Burke is all worked up over the wrong bogeyman when he bitches about offer sheets. Dustin Penner still works for the NHL.

Contraction by a couple of NHL franchises would adjust for the loss of talent. I will not hold my breath.

Dismissing the KHL because they do not poach the top-level talent is missing the point entirely. Filling the last 5 spots on an NHL roster is much more difficult with the KHL around. The KHL's existence dilutes the talent-level of the NHL, diminishing the on ice product. What people hold up as the NHL's strength when deriding the KHL is actually undermined by the KHL. That is the point.

At 5:45 a.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Credit goes to Hockey's Future poster Slitty for the list of the 22 players.

At 7:46 a.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

That list is probably 21 players. Jason Krog has been poached back by the Vancouver Canucks, but your point stands.

Nobody thinks the KHL will put the NHL out of business or contain the best teams in the world next year, but it doesn't need to to be a threat.

The KHL and WHA seem to have roughly equal talent levels in their early days and the WHA was a large problem for the NHL. I think the KHL will be one too.

At 7:59 a.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) The WHA was a problem for the NHL, but we don't see the comparison here. The WHA was vying for the same market/audience/dollars. The KHL is not
2) The only similarity is that both are vying for the same talent. Its not likely that NA hockey fans will stop watching if a few Russian players leave/not come here to play
3) However it WILL become a true rival IF North American born players (in their prime) start to defect to play there instead of the NHL.

At 8:10 a.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

3) However it WILL become a true rival IF North American born players (in their prime) start to defect to play there instead of the NHL.

Good point - especially if young players just entering their primes head to Russia because they can make a contract that exceeds the entry-level permitted under the salary cap. If teams are going to be successful with a salary cap, they will need to develop their own young players who will perform better than the dollars they are being paid would indicate - if that starts to go away, NHL teams are going to be in a world of hurt.

At 10:04 a.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger Matthew said...

The fact is that the best players in the world should want to play in the best league in the world with the greatest amount of talent. That said, the NHL should be able to retain its young superstars because of this fact. Succeeding in the best hockey league in the world should be more of a motivating factor for youngsters than money. The best will always want to play in North America.

At 10:28 a.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger Kraftster said...

The more exposure this topic is getting, the more I find myself being pulled in Mirtle's direction. Spector, in my opinion, despite his comments saying that he concedes Radulov is a good young player, is far, far too dismissive of what has happened here. This league is in its complete infancy, and, its already made a significant splash in getting Radulov at just age 22 with still a year remaining on his entry level deal.

@ anonymous saying that the league could lose Ovechkin and Malkin and still the NHL would "reign supreme" as the best league in the world. I really don't have any doubts that that's true, but, is league superiority really the point here? Obviously the NHL is so well established that the KHL wouldn't threaten it as the better league for at least a couple decades. The real issue is that as fans of the NHL, we should want to see the finest talent in the world. We should have a league where the world's finest talent continues to want to be here. If that's threatened, sure the NHL is still plenty entertaining, and, sure there will be Canadians winning the cup like you talked about, but, the product will be watered down, there's no denying that.

It will definitely be interesting to see where things go from here with respect to the "agreement" that had apparently been reached. In fairness, Radulov should be permitted to play in Russia next year without significant sanctions based on IIHF inactivity when it has been the reverse situation. If the situation gets beyond the IIHF (into the courts), there is no doubt that Radulov will be playing in Russia. Despite what people seem to believe, Radulov is not going to be forced to play in the NHL in any court of law.

At 10:45 a.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

"There are 690 NHL jobs. Assume that the KHL are not going to get anyone in the top half. How many of the lower-paid 345 does it take until its significant? Certainly its less than 50. Who fills in for them?"

The next 50 best players in North America, obviously. Contrary to popular illusion, the talent pool the NHL draws from today is much deeper than it was 20 years ago. If the KHL wants to take some of our scrubs - and make no mistake, aside from Jagr and Radulov, that list is entirely made up of scrubs - we can easily find more without any real impact on the NHL talent base.

It's also misleading to argue that the KHL has "poached" 21-22 players, and thus are a threat. Marginal NHL players have gone to Russia for years now because they could make more money in Russia than they would as a 7th D/12th forward in the NHL. In truth, the KHL has probably only taken 7-10 players, at most, who otherwise might have played in the NHL this year. The rest are guys who weren't going to have NHL jobs anyway. Only two are players that we might actually miss.

The threat of the KHL is massively overblown.

At 10:50 a.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger Big Picture Guy said...

It's gone unnoticed but the NHL has signed some of the top players in the Sm-Liiga recently-the top two scorers (including the MVP), the top scoring defenseman, and a top goalie. They were free agents. Did they shy away from the KHL because of Finns historic distrust of Russia? If I were trying to build a world-class league I would rather take a shot at players like that than at some of the AHL retreads the KHL has pursued. If I were trying to get publicity in North America and poke a stick in the NHL's eye then I would do what the KHL has done.

At 12:50 p.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous exwhaler said...

Honestly, the only reason why other players haven't jumped yet is because the KHL is ambitious outgrowth of the RSL, which had an issue of unguaranteed contracts and instability. If the KHL proves stable after a season or two, then more Russian and European players *will* jump. The enticement of more money to play closer to home will become something they can't ignore. Dismissing them as an irritant based on their first off-season seems a bit ignorant; the fact they were able to attract an aging superstar like Jagr and convince a young talent like Radulov to break his contract should be worrisome. The KHL doesn't have a cap on players signed from the NHL; they have former NHLPA director Bob Goodenow working for them; and while they have their haves and havenots, the top teams can pay more than the top NHL teams. The KHL is a developing threat to keep an eye on.

At 1:42 p.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger Adam C said...

What if the KHL offers Tavares $40M over five years? Does anyone here really expect him to say "No, I'd rather play for free in junior this year so that I can make entry-level money in the NHL next year"?

Don't push this "everyone wants to play here" idea too far; they won't do it for nothing.

At 3:47 p.m., July 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Giving that much to Tavares wouldn't be a smart move because that would take too much space in their 20M dollar salary cap.

At this point NHL has much more money to throw around so KHL doesn't mean much.

Different story when they get more than 5.000 watching games and TV sets are more common around that big country.

At 4:33 p.m., July 18, 2008, Blogger Matthew said...

I say let em' go if they want the money that badly. The NHL is the best league in the world; it's a place where the best players come to showcase their talent. I agree that maybe in a 3-5 years when the KHL is more established a couple of superstars might make the jump. Hell, I'm a caps fan and we've got Ovechkin locked up for 12 more years...I don't care what happens after that.

At 10:59 p.m., July 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is it possible to even compare the KHL and NHL. The KHL at best will be like the CFL after a few years. They might occasionally get a player like Radulov who can be there all time great but compare the 2. The KHL, except for the exemption for a few players has a more restrictive salary cap then the NHL does. Every team is allowed only 4 non-russians. Also, most of these teams play in rinks that don't even meet AHL standards and ticket prices are too low.

The WHA was a real threat as they were competing for the same rinks as the NHL was using. THe NY Islanders only exist because the WHA would have put a team in the arena had the NHL not. Putting NHL teams in Russia or in Europe won't work unless they build themselves NHL caliber rinks.

The KHL will be like the CFL. They have import rules, like the CFL. THE NHL and NFL both accept anyone who can make it.
THE CFL and KHL play in small stadiums/rinks. THE NHL teams play in state of the art rinks or are in the process of building them.
Joe Theisman played for the Argos for a few years, Warren Moon played for Edmonton, a few great players playing in a minor league isn't a threat and until the KHL actually has a hope of making a profit, not just oil tycoons trying to make a political statement, they won't be a threat.

At 3:20 p.m., July 30, 2008, Anonymous Tyrone Biggums said...

No poaching agreement? I figure if you're able to get paid better or get better benefits for playing the same game, then you should be able to go where you please, or get offers. I see it as a job, which it actually is really. get paid better somewhere else to do the same work, who shouldn't be able to take advantage of that?


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