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Enough with the Alex Ovechkin envy, KHL

Greg Wyshynski
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To: The Kontinental Hockey League

From: Your Friends At Puck Daddy

Hi, Vladimir, Sergei, Slava and our other comrades. We hope this memo finds you well.

Congratulations again on enticing Ilya Kovalchuk to retire from the National Hockey League and play for SKA. It just goes to show that by combining homesickness, national pride and a salary equivalent to the gross national product of Belize, the KHL can lure any player to Russia that was eventually going to come over anyway when his base salary dropped like the Freefall ride at Six Flags.

Ah, but poaching one NHL star in his prime wasn’t enough, it seems. Last week, Dynamo Moscow’s general director Andrey Safranov told a gathering of fans that his team would explore the possibility of getting Alex Ovechkin to quit the Washington Capitals and play for the KHL’s oil money.

From Russian Machine Never Breaks, via the original Russian report from TASS:

“Ovechkin has a current contract with the Capitals. Can we try to pull him out? We’ll talk, we’ll look at each other and will have some result. Right now all Russian national team players want to come back to their homeland. KHL shows its force and credibility. And finances are important too. Taking taxes in account, playing in Russia has become way more attractive for players.”

Ovechkin, as you noted, has a contract and has eight years and $79 million remaining on that contract. This obligation obviously didn’t stop Kovalchuk from departing, but there might have been some reason why the Devils wanted to reduce their debt load and hence didn’t fight the contractual abandonment from their star player.

Would Ted Leonsis be as forgiving? Of course he would! He would obviously allow the most marketable player in franchise history to abandon his contract and play in Russia without (a) fighting the move via what one assumes will be a new transfer agreement between the sides and/or (b) tolling the contract to ensure that Ovechkin could never return to the NHL.

Right? Right?!

Of course not. Leonsis would smother you like a mountain of un-mailed AOL dial-up CDs, and Ovechkin would either be a Capital or stuck in hockey purgatory until the dispute is settled.

Speaking of marketability, we should probably address what Ovechkin would be giving up were he to leave for the KHL right now.

Ovechkin is with IMG. They don’t have him as a client because he’s huge in Omsk. They have him as a client because he’s an international superstar. Ditto Bauer. Ditto Gillette. Ditto all the brands that are in the Alex Ovechkin business because he plays in the NHL.

Kovalchuk didn’t exactly have the same sponsorship footprint – he couldn’t even get a 1-877-Kars4Kids radio spot in Jersey – and, frankly, his brand was always stronger in Russia. Ovechkin would make huge bank as a pitchman in the motherland too … but he would not longer be an international brand.

Going to the KHL would mean he’s persona non grata in North America, save for the occasional YouTube highlight of him dancing around your immobile defenseman to score on your beer league-caliber goaltending.

And that’s the other thing about Ovechkin: He’s a competitor.

He likes being the biggest fish in the biggest pond, whereas others are content being the Bobby Orr of a second-tier league, and by that we mean Kevin Dallman.

Winning in the NHL drives him, sometimes to the brink of depression because his peers have all reached heights he hasn’t. Scoring 80 goals in the KHL doesn’t change the fact that Sid and Geno have their names on the Holy Grail while Ovechkin hasn’t even played for it. Somehow, drinking from a trophy named after a cosmonaut isn’t going to fill that void in his psyche, we imagine. (Though a gold medal might ... viva la Sochi!)

Look, KHL, it’s cute that you and Dynamo keep toying with the Ovechkin Snatching, like a kitten batting around the smallest nesting doll. KHL President Medvedev claims the team has a “moral right” to him. Dynamo has publicly targeted Ovechkin for the last three years, which smells like fan service more than an actual threat to the NHL.

And look, we all know he’s going to the KHL at some point, when he’s past his prime (a.k.a. in his Oleg Tverdovsky years) and the Capitals are looking to shed his contract and there’s a mutual parting of ways.

But not now. Not when his team, his brand and his NHL success are this important to him. Not when winning a Stanley Cup still motivates him. Hell, even Ilya Kovalchuk still counts winning a Cup as a career goal.

So let's revisit this in about seven years, when Ovechkin will lose his smile over the next CBA and the KHL will beckon. Until then ... say, whatever happened to that KHL team in Italy? Because there's this goalie in Vancouver with this terrible contract and ...

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