August 28, 2008
Most of Snapshots blogger George James Malik's latest take on the
KHLNHLPA's challenges to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement plays like Mark Warner's speech at the DNC: Informative, enlightening but also a bit exhausting for the non-wonk crowd.
The real eye-opener comes near the end of the piece, when Malik hits on something rather underplayed in this entire NHL/KHL burgeoning cold war: The new Russian league's impact on minor league hockey. From Snapshots:
The de-facto $95,000 AHL salary cap (players who are paid over $95,000 in the AHL who aren't on entry-level deals are subject to re-entry waivers both on the way up and the way down) is driving minor pro hockey's top players not just to the KHL, but also to the rest of Europe's top leagues, leaving a league that's more and more dependent upon entry-level players to carry the mail, and more and more of those players are Europeans. For every European star who makes the NHL, more end up in the AHL for a year or two, and individually-negotiated transfer fees would reduce their participation in North American hockey by a dramatic margin, because players who weren't Ovechkins-to-be could become too expensive to bring over, making the AHL's brain drain that much worse, and, ultimately, hurting NHL teams that don't want to pay, say, $800,000 because that's how much Djurgardens IF says that it will cost for them to release Dick Axelsson.
Malik's points about European talent deciding not to play in North American minor leagues is an important one. But what about locals heading overseas? Taking a gander at some of the names that have bolted from the NHL to the KHL, and you'll see what I referred to in yesterday's rumors chat as 'Tweeners: Players who may have, in the past, signed with an AHL team in the hopes of getting called back to the NHL during the season. Now they're opting for the Russian league. Two players who appeared with the Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves went KHL: Joel Kwiatkowski and Jason Krog, although his status is obviously in doubt.
What makes this situation even more interesting are the restrictions the AHL has in place in regards to playing veteran players. Teams can only dress five (sometimes six) players who have more than 260 games played in any hockey league internationally. Limited jobs and a new potential employer throwing money and contracts around in Russia? Talk about a ‘Tweener dream.
The AHL isn't just a place for young future NHL stars to incubate. It's a business, one with its own set of attendance concerns and pressures to win. The departure of veteran minor league players to Russia or other overseas destinations could have a sever impact on the AHL; and, in many ways, its parent league as well.