KHL President Medvedev is also the head of Russian natural gas giant Gazprom. He was in New York to attend the annual meeting with American shareholders as well as conduct other Gazprom business. But he still found time to have a meeting with the heads of the NHL [please note how he calls Bettman "Gary" without using his last name]. Right after the lunch was over Medvedev spoke exclusively with me…
"Yes, we held a meeting today with Gary [Bettman] and Bill Daly. I would like to point out that the meeting had a very friendly feel to it. It was also very constructive which indicates that both Leagues understand each other's positions and views. It can only help the development of the game of hockey on both sides of the Atlantic. And even though we haven't accomplished a lot yet, nevertheless we already have a few regulatory documents that govern the respect of each other's contracts," he said.
"This is the second year that these regulations have been in place, and even though there are some things we don't agree on, none of them have grown into any sort of conflicts. The agreements we have in place have already helped up resolve a few situations concerning a number of players from the KHL who were able to sign contracts in the NHL, as well as a number of players from the NHL who signed contracts in the KHL having their contracts either terminated or amended in accordance with the rules in principles we have in place with the NHL."
Medvedev said there aren't any concrete agreements in place — yet. "But this level of cooperation gives us the opportunity to have high hopes that in the near future our partnership will be developed further in a number of different ways," he said.
We went into detail with Medvedev during a Q&A:
Q. Does this include having games between KHL and NHL teams?
MEDVEDEV: "Of course we couldn't avoid touching on this subject, and I am talking about regular season games as well as exhibition games which would not only be held in KHL countries, but in North America as well. But there is still a lot that needs to be done to achieve that, especially considering the fact that the new CBA negotiations between the NHL and the NHLPA would take away the League's attention from the KHL. It is difficult to work on any projects together until there is a new CBA in place."
"Nevertheless, the types of projects we are discussing, the range of ideas we are sharing — this cannot be seen as anything but a positive. It is our understanding that a lot will depend on the new CBA, which will give us more clarity as far as what we can and cannot do, but at the same time we both, the KHL and the NHL, share our ideas with each other at this time how to make the impossible possible. This dialogue will continue and we agreed that our consultations and conversations will intensify."
Was there any talk about the Olympics?
"It was impossible to avoid the topic of the Olympics because it if obvious that for our sport, for the game of hockey, the Olympics are extremely important. We have very high hopes that the problems that are being discussed between the NHL and the IIHF that may prevent players from participating in the Olympics will be resolved. I am also not excluding the possibility that the KHL itself, which also has its own marketing interests in the Games, will join in on the negotiations. I think it will be easier to resolve all issues if we do it together [with the NHL]. But it is still too early to talk about it because the actual negotiations haven't started yet."
Talking about the KHL, there is more talk that the League is expanding West to countries like Italy with Milan being one of the possible destinations. Could you talk about the League's strategy?
"The criteria for joining the KHL are very transparent and there are a few candidates to join the League. And these candidates have the support of their countries' respective hockey federations that will have to provide their official approval for those teams to join the League. Milan hockey club as well as [Croatian] club Medvescak are the real viable candidates to join the KHL in the very near future. There are also other candidates that are a little too remote to talk about right now. But this development and expansion of the KHL to Western Europe is obvious and unavoidable, and it will help to promote the game of hockey and make it very popular in countries and places that may not have been considered hockey places for a long time."
And what is the League going to do about the likes of Vityaz who started yet another brawl, if you could even call it that, in their last home game this season, chasing Atlant players who obviously didn't want to fight?
"I have already heard about the incident even though I haven't seen exactly what happened. We have the League Regulations that spell out what type of punishment will be imposed on the guilty. I don't think you will see those players again this season, especially considering there are only 4-5 games left until the end of the season. And as far as the future, especially considering the so-called 'tough guys,' the League doesn't see a reason that any club should have 4-5 people who have a very narrow specialty. The League will discuss eliminating the opportunity to have the number of 'tough guys' outweighs the number of 'playing' players."
When the League launched players like Jaromir Jagr, Alexei Yashin and Alexander Radulov were the faces of the league. Jagr is gone, Yashin's not getting younger and it looks very likely that Radulov will be back in the NHL next year. Who will be the face of the League in the future? What about young players like Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov and what is the League doing to keep them in the KHL?
"There are few steps the League is taking to keep it more attractive for those and other players to stay, including special bonuses from the League, like the one Tarasenko is getting. The base contracts are set at a certain level, especially for those drafted in the first round of the [KHL] draft. And the overall level of pay for young players is quite high. But players also have to have a good head on their shoulders to realize that leaving before the Olympics is not to their advantage. It is obvious that after the Olympics their value and influence is going to be a lot higher regardless of who will actually win the Olympics.
"It is too early to say if we will be able to keep Tarasenko [Tarasenko was traded by Sibir to SKA before the trade deadline; Medvedev is also SKA's president]. But I know for a fact that Evgeny Kuznetsov is very seriously considering the possibility of continuing his career with Traktor. As for us, we will create the best for them so that they would stay and play in the KHL, especially because they have already proven how good they are."
The KHL All Star Game was, for the first time, broadcast in North America by a major sports network — TSN. Are there any plans to broadcast regular season and playoff games in North America in the future?
"We are currently negotiating with interested parties in North America. Just like there is interest in the NHL in Russia, there is interest in the KHL in North America. I think a true hockey fan is always interested to see how hockey is played on different rinks, different styles. And it is not far away that North American hockey fans will be able to see both NHL and KHL games."
A few years ago when we met in Washington, there was a talk that you may be heading a team of investors interested in acquiring an NHL franchise. What is happening with this idea now?
"There was a talk at the time between us and a number of business partners who wanted to acquire stakes in KHL clubs as well as an NHL club. This idea has not yet materialized, although I think this cross-ownership would help bring the two leagues closer together. At this time we don't have anything concrete even though we know there are teams that have some problems and want to change ownership. But we'd still want to do it as we first planned [same ownership group behind a KHL and an NHL club], because we want it to be a two-way street."
As well as running the KHL you are also President of SKA St. Petersburg. The team is expected to do well in this year's playoffs. What kind of dare would you do if your club wins the Gagarin Cup? In 2007 Metallurg Magnitogorsk's general director Gennadi Velichkin promised fans he'd shave his head if his team won the championship. And he kept his word.
"I would let my hair grow to have the same style I had when I was young! I would look just like someone from the Beatles of the 70s."