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."Make no mistake, Russia is hopping mad. And, in a lot of ways, that's justified.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- They're mad.
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?"