July 10, 2008
If "Rocky IV" taught us anything, it's that Russia is rather obsessed with athletic dominance on the international stage. And with breaking Stallone. That too.
So does anyone really believe that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation will punish any young player who leaves the country for a North American minor league with a four-year ban from the Russian National team?
For example, if the Amanda Bynes-ish Nikita Filatov, who just agreed to a three-year entry level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets today, blossoms quickly into the next Pavel Bure, will the Russians refuse his services in international competition? Because fans over there take their international hockey pretty darn seriously (video).
Fact is that although the number of Russian players drafted by the NHL has declined in concurrence with the failure of labor relations with their homeland, Russian officials are resorting to rather desperate tactics to hold on to young stars like Filatov.
Adam Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch explains why Alexander Medvedev, president of Russia's new Continental Hockey League, believes the Jackets owe up to half a million dollars for Filatov:
"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 said in an article that appeared earlier this week in Sovietskiy Sport, a Russian newspaper. "This did not happen. And I understand that neither his family nor the (Blue Jackets) has yet demonstrated the willingness to pay compensation.
"CSKA has invested their money in Filatov's training. Therefore, we're not issuing a transfer card to Nikita. And it means he will not be able to play either in Columbus or in the junior leagues." Filatov could decide to bolt to the United States without a transfer card once his visa is approved.
And with that, Bethany's Hockey Rants has heard about enough about the CHL. RussianProspects.com writes that "it is highly unlikely that Filatov will play anywhere but in North America next season and the Russian league or CSKA will not likely receive any compensation."
Neil Hodge of the Times and Transcript reports that recently drafted players like Vjateslav Voinov (second round, Los Angeles Kings), Viktor Tikhonov (first round, Phoenix Coyotes), Voinov Kirill Petrov (third round, New York Islanders) and Evgeni Grachev (third round, New York Rangers) are under fire from Russian officials. Voinov's agent said it best, to Hodge: "They're probably acting on emotions because some of their top prospects are leaving Russia to go play in North America. If they're missing five top players on the Russian team at next year's world junior championship, I don't think it's good for Russian hockey."
Bingo. It's an idle threat. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and one look at New York Times writer Jeff Klein's sidebar on NHL/CHL transactions shows that the NHL is whupping its new rivals in acquisition of talent. Here's what the NHL has lost, according to the Times:
• G Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators to Atlant Mytishchi (KHL)
• F Josef Vasicek, Islanders to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL)
• F Jaromir Jagr, Rangers to Avangard Omsk (KHL)
• F Stefan Ruzicka, Philadelphia Flyers to Spartak Moscow (KHL)
• F Marcel Hossa, Phoenix Coyotes to Dinamo Riga (KHL)
• G Wade Dubielewicz, Islanders to Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)
• F Martin Straka, Rangers to HCL Plzen (CZE)
• D Jon Klemm, Los Angeles Kings to Straubing Tigers (DEL)
NO! NOT JON KLEMM!!!
Sorry to be so flip about this whole Russian League thing, but I just don't understand the ominous reaction from many NHL fans towards this new rival. I'm sure with its undeniable funding, it's going to be able to attract players that would otherwise play in the NHL. But it's never going to get top-flight North American talent to pick the CHL over the NHL. It's never going to keep the Ovechkins or Malkins, who go in the Top 5 of an NHL Draft. It's never, ever, ever going to have the goaltending the NHL enjoys. Given its current trajectory, it might as well be the Sloppy-Seconds Hockey League.
The whole thing feels like when Donald Trump decided to buy into the USFL, which I covered in my book "Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer." (Yours for only three cents on Amazon!) He got into the New Jersey Generals with the hopes that the NFL would absorb the franchise in an NBA/ABA merger kind of way (which it didn't). I look at the CHL/KHL/Russian Thing, and I'm wondering if its entire aim is to become the European arm of the NHL once our League goes global. (In which case, will we then have an Original 30?)
Until then, if a league full of Martin Strakas is your bag, more power to you. Wake me up when Red October ends. Or when the NHL has to start threatening young players with half-million dollar fines and international championship blacklisting.
Man, what a surge of patriotism I've just displayed. I feel like Jim Duggan putting Nikolai Volkov over the top rope with a 2x4. Instead of Jim Duggan getting high with The Iron Sheik (video).