Wednesday, July 16, 2008

NHL vs. KHL
A double standard

In other transfer news, veteran winger Jason Krog signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Monday despite previously agreeing to play for Severstal of the CHL. [Russian league president Alexander] Medvedev said Sunday it was a "double standard."

Krog put up great numbers in the American Hockey League last season, scoring 39 goals and 73 assists in 80 games with the Chicago Wolves.
Make no mistake, Russia is hopping mad. And, in a lot of ways, that's justified.

It's not new, either.

What's different now, as opposed to 10 years ago, is that Russia's getting back on its feet and is ready for a fight. As the Sporting News' Eric McErlain wrote Monday, "this is not the Russia that was struggling after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is a Russia that is resurgent, confident and unafraid to flex its muscles."

And Alex Radulov will be at the centre of it all.

The talk in Russia at the moment centres on the role the IIHF will play in the Radulov case, and if he'll be banned from participation in the Champions League, world championship and the 2010 Olympics. Salavat Yulaev Ufa general manager Oleg Gross, who signed Radulov, addressed the issue to sovsport.ru:
I do not understand ... A citizen of Russia wants to play hockey in their country — what's the problem? And on what basis may the IIHF prohibit Radulov from the Champions League? Why, when we have players stolen, is the international federation silent?
Gross goes on to say that the IIHF council now includes Medvedev, who is quickly becoming one of the most powerful figures in international hockey, and that perhaps he can "ask the IIHF president why he puts obstacles [in front of] Russian players and helps Canadians?"

"In recent years, our side wanted to conclude this transfer [agreement] while respecting Russian contracts. North Americans stubbornly refused. And now we must pay Radulov and crawl to their knees?"

No one in this dispute is in a more difficult position than IIHF president Rene Fasel. For years, the federation has worked in close connection with the NHL under the premise that many high profile events — and the funds that come with them — required cooperation between the two entities.

Now, with a more moneyed KHL and Medvedev's gas giant Gazprom serving as a key sponsor for the Champions League, the IIHF isn't in a position where it can simply freeze out either side. And it's doubtful more negotiations will get the two sides anywhere.

The KHL is being written off in a lot of circles at the moment, but this could be a lethal adversary for a league that's battling a sagging American economy and is operating within the confines of a salary cap.

McErlain breaks the threat down into a 1-2-3 combination:
  1. They're moneyed. Gazprom is one of the largest companies in the world, behind only Exxon and PetroChina, and can sink an incredible amount of money into deals like the ones Radulov and Jaromir Jagr have signed.

  2. They're connected. The Russian government is beginning to play a role, tightening restrictions on players' ability to leave the country, and it's no wonder. The resource-based companies running hockey are interconnected with politics — Gazprom's last chairman, Dmitry Medvedev, for instance, is now the Russian president — and are interested in reversing the drain of top talent to the NHL.

  3. They're mad.
The NHL still has Russia's superstars — Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, etc. — but there's no question that flow of talent has dwindled in recent years. Just 14 Russian-born players skated in 70 or more NHL games last season, and only six of those were 25 or under.

Minus a transfer agreement, good players are staying home already. NHL clubs are shying away from drafting Russian players, who are instead developing within their own system and playing key roles in international tournaments.

Put it this way: Did you ever imagine Russia would be snapping up the likes of Alex Radulov while the NHL chased Jason Krog?

Medvedev gets the last word:
"[We are willing to pay] $200,000 for the players during the transfer agreement. Let us now pay you money for the same Radulov. And [we] will end the matter.

"If the NHL believes that $200,000 is a fair price for one hockey player, we are ready to confirm it in practice. It is a two-way street, is not it?"
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22 Comments:

At 4:14 AM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Schuster said...

At the same time, at least one of the teams in the new KHL hasn't been able to cough up the money to join. It's not like everybody has a Gazprom backing them. This is probably good for hockey, and the NHL, in the end.

 
At 5:42 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger The Puck Stops Here said...

Krog is not the only one. Tomas Mojzis signed with Sibir Novosibirsk in May and with the Minnesota Wild in July.

Krog claims he had an out in his contract that he could leave if he signed elsewhere by August 1st, but I have seen no verification of it (naturally the Russians deny it).

 
At 7:53 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger Doogie2K said...

I always found it odd that the NHL had to pay for players, but the RSL/KHL didn't. If they're willing to do that, then I guess it's fair. Still, a contract is a contract, and I would think the SPC includes language preventing him from playing for another professional club. I suspect there's going to be legal action here in the near future.

Besides, I fail to see the double standard here. The KHL signed a player away who was still under NHL contract. Why should Medvedev get his panties in a knot over Jason friggin' Krog?

 
At 8:06 AM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The second point, I think, is the big one.

No matter how wealthy (some) of the teams are and how willing the owners are to sustain monetary losses to ensure egotistical or vanity gains, and no matter how mad anyone is, if the government puts so many barriers to players leaving then the supply of Russians is going to slow to a trickle - even the players who want to leave are going to have an extremely tough time of it.

 
At 8:36 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger Big Picture Guy said...

V. Voynov (the Kings insist on this spelling) and Andrei Loktionov have been in the LA development camp. Voynov was mentioned by Medvedev in his earliest tirades but has dropped out of the conversation. Loktionov is said to have a valid contract in Russia as does this late addition Denis Bodrov (Philadelphia Flyers), per www.russianprospects.com. Inside the Kings had this about Voynov and Loktionov's travails:"Apparently, it's been a rough go for these guys, as they've faced all sorts of threats and challenges from Russian officials."
The KHL is a hybrid, a combination of private ownership and direct state financing. Or reneging, as in the case of Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg (incidentally, Medvedev has declared that players who signed with that failed team are "free agents", left to fend for themselves). It will be interesting to see if a secondary market for re-sale of clubs ever develops. Maybe the NHL could send Gary Bettman to teach the Russians about how to buy a team with no money down, or no money at all (ala Del Biaggio).

 
At 8:36 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger Jonathan said...

At the same time, at least one of the teams in the new KHL hasn't been able to cough up the money to join. It's not like everybody has a Gazprom backing them.

This is a key point that a lot of commentators seem to forget. The gap between the haves and have-nots is much larger than in the NHL, and some of the have-not teams are extremely unstable. Two little excerpts from King of Russia by Dave King and Eric Duhatschek:

"Lada- whic was standing seventh out of eighteen teams- did sell eleven players into the marketplacem thereby reducing their payroll... In no professional league I've ever been associated with do you get a team that's in seventh place and doing very well suddenly release eleven players"

and

"...Molot Perm, the last-place team beset by so many problems, may fold. They haven't paid their players in months."

There's other references in the book (couldn't find them this morning) where the smaller market teams complain about the perception that there are limitless dollars in the RSL; in point of fact, much like the pre-cap NHL, there are a half-dozen teams with virtually unlimited payrolls and the rest just have to get by.

The other thing about the KHL is that unless the rules have changed since the NHL lockout, they only have a very limited number of import slots; the real threat to the NHL is the loss of it's Russian starts, bot it's North American ones, and to a large extent, hasn't that happened already?

 
At 10:16 AM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see it as a double standard. Malkin had a contract, he signed it. Yeah, he was suckered in, but Radulov can say the same. I think it's fair to start from a new page just like Medvedev proposed. I read an interview with Tolpeko (Flyers guy), he really wanted to play in NA, spent several years in junior leagues, now he is saying he is tired of America. No question, you will see a lot more defection if NHL and KHL won't reach an agreement.

 
At 10:38 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:39 AM, July 16, 2008, Blogger FAUX RUMORS said...

1) So ya wanna play in Russia huh? If you thought the average NHL owner was a crook, the Russian owners make their NHL counter parts look like Mother Theresa.
2) How many guys are still waiting to get paid from their lockout play? You deal with crooks, you're gonna get stiffed or become a stiff yourself.
3) As we wrote on our blog this morning, we don't see the KHL as a true rival league to the NHL, but it has quickly become a significant annoyance.

 
At 11:03 AM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

Those last comments from Medvedev show what a collossal hypocrite he and his organization are. Funny how when it is Radulov breaking his contract to go to Russia, paginy $200k suddenly is fair. Not so much when they pressured Malkin into a deal under duress then tried to extort the NHL for millions.

Idiots.

 
At 12:07 PM, July 16, 2008, OpenID tersa said...

Y'know, I have to agree with the Russians here. If Krog had a contract with the KHL, then Vancouver should respect it. If the contract has an out clause, then Krog or his agent better find a copy of that contract as proof (and if they don't have a copy, then shame on them).

It's not just the KHL the NHL is dealing with here, in the Krog case--but all of Europe. If they thumb their nose at the KHL over Krog, what kind of assurances do the Finnish, Swedish, Czech, Slovak, etc. leagues have that NHL won't treat them the same way?

And to what doogie2k said:

Besides, I fail to see the double standard here. The KHL signed a player away who was still under NHL contract. Why should Medvedev get his panties in a knot over Jason friggin' Krog?

It's the principle of the thing. The NHL can't go and scream foul over Radulov then do the exact same thing with Krog three days later. It doesn't matter if Krog is a borderline minor leaguer and Radulov a good 1st round draft pick: if the NHL doesn't honor their side of the agreement, they're as much hypocrites as Keith accused Medvedev of being.

 
At 12:15 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"As we wrote on our blog this morning"

We, The Queen of England, ...

Idiot.

 
At 12:15 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Ttiger said...

Great article as always Mirtle. First of all, how some people don't see the double standard is beyond me. Regardless of whether Malkin signed his contract "under duress", he still signed it. He, just like Krog, just like Radulov, committed to playing with a team. Stick to it.

I'm torn on the whole transfer fee aspect. I can see the purpose behind it: it's meant o compensate teh team that developped the player for the years it developped him. It's a great concept.But I need a few clarifications:
1. I think the NHL pays a certain amount to CHL teams, NCAA teams and any other teams from which it drafts players. What are the different amounts?
2. in the CHL, a player plays his minor hockey wherever he grows up, is drafted by a CHL team and then by an NHL team. The NHL pays the CHL (or do they ay the CHL), does the CHL pay the minor hockey programs at any point?
3. How is the development process in different areas? If a player is drafted out of Lokomotiv, did he play his minor hocky there as well?
4. How do other major sports operate? Namely european soccer, baseball, etc.
From there, the Russian Hockey Federation's claim that $200,000 is not a correct amount can properly be debated. Should we go to a variable value system? Should NHL teams pay millions for an Ovechkin but pennies for a 4th liner who doesn't pan out?

Make no mistake: I am convinced that this is what teh Radulov signing is all about. Whether the KHL lures some big names or not, the fact of the matter is that, with some owners unable to pay top talent (assuming this is true and unchanged), there will be major disparity in the league and so long as a league operates with sub-average players, the elite players will get bored and want to come back to the NHL.

 
At 1:09 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With Malkin, signing the contract under duress DOES matter. You can't just pressure someone into signing something when it isn't their free will to do so.

It's different if a player signs his contract with his eyes wide open and then just doesn't like the situation. Malkin thought he was able to leave, he thought he had an agreement with them that he could leave for the NHL, then they showed up at his home and badgered him into signing even though he didn't want to.

No contract can be held valid if it wasn't entered into willingly, and signing under duress isn't willingly entering into a contract.

 
At 1:12 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

F*ck the Soviets.

Let them play in their beaten-down, unheated, bomb-shelter "arenas" in front of 3,500 shivering fans.

Maybe they get paid at the end of the month, maybe they don't.

Until they invent television in the USSR, and electricity, and central heating, and the rule of law, and freedom, and banking laws, and a criminal justice system, etc., that society - much less its hockey leaguge - will not advance past the 18th-century.

If that's the world Radulov prefers, das vadanya.

 
At 1:31 PM, July 16, 2008, OpenID tersa said...

Hey, James. Even more interesting I think are Medvedev's comments about Filatov's contract:

"Even given that the term of Filatov's contract with CSKA had expired, it was still a valid contract ... A contract is terminated only when negotiating an indemnity amount," Medvedev told Sovetskiy Sport, a Russian newspaper, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

How the heck can the 'term of the contract expire' and yet the person still be under contract???

Here, Medvedev is being a hypocrite.

 
At 2:19 PM, July 16, 2008, Blogger McLea said...

Regardless of whether Malkin signed his contract "under duress", he still signed it.

Ha, quote of the month.

 
At 3:32 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can you steal players? Is this new form of slavery or is it possible that Russian players want to play in NHL?

Ovechkin signed, what, 13 year new deal and Malkin has a new five year deal in his pocket.

NHL has no reason to be afraid of KHL. It operates in Russia. Period.

Heck, NHL players don't want to play in Edmonton but now Jaroslav is a great place. Yeah, right!

Only few of KHL's imports bring their wives with them, never mind kids. Sounds like it's wonderful league and country.

 
At 3:32 PM, July 16, 2008, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

How the heck can the 'term of the contract expire' and yet the person still be under contract???

This happens to NHL players all the time. Until they reach the age where unrestricted free agency is allowed, the remain under the reserve clause whether signed or not.

No contract can be held valid if it wasn't entered into willingly, and signing under duress isn't willingly entering into a contract.

This is true. However, a court has to find that it was signed under duress for the contract to be voidable. No such finding has ever been made. The US District Court hearing the matter dismissed Magnitogorsk's suit for technical reasons having to do with Russian labor law. Its finding essentially says that a US court will never hold that a Russian contract is enforceable to prevent a player from leaving Russia to play in the US, regardless of the conditions under which the contract was signed. It also pretty much stated that the determination of an arbitrator in Russia will never have force on the matter.

I am not qualified to pass judgment on whether this was a correct reading of Article 80 of the Russian labor law. Nevertheless, it is the case that there is a double standard as to how the US courts treat the leagues in each country. It may be a legitimate double standard under the law, but it is very real.

 
At 5:23 PM, July 16, 2008, Blogger ninja said...

Soviets? What century are you living in?

 
At 6:13 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Keith said...

"This happens to NHL players all the time. Until they reach the age where unrestricted free agency is allowed, the remain under the reserve clause whether signed or not."

True, but that only applies within the NHL. An NHL RFA could head to Europe without difficulty then. The Russians are being hypocrites here.

As far as the Krog situation goes, he claims he had an out-clause. If he did, then the Russians are just chest thumping to avoid looking like even bigger idiots. If he didn't, then the NHL should void the contract per this agreement. Especially since it would send a pretty good shot across the bow wrt the Radulov signing.

 
At 8:28 PM, July 16, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soviets? What century are you living in?

It's called "satire." Check it out some time.

 

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