A KHL Q&A
A threat or much ado about nothing?
On FoxSports.com, 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.
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?