September 11, 2008
Absolute bombshell dropped by NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly on Bill Watters's radio show yesterday up on 640am in Toronto (audio): That Alexander Radulov, the former Nashville Predators winger at the center of a very contentious dispute between the NHL and the KHL, wants to leave the new Russian league only a few games into his career there.
Perhaps all this talk about arbitration is so the KHL can keep a player who wants to leave, rather than the NHL getting back a player who broke his contract ...
From Kelly on the Watters show, regarding whether the Radulov situation will be resolved before reaching court:
"My information is that the player very much wants to return and play in the NHL. I have that on extremely good authority. He's tried the KHL. He's seen what it has to offer for a few games already. He was quite successful last year for the Nashville Predators. I think, long-term, Alexander wants to play in the NHL. I believe there is an outcome which is doable, which will involve some type of an agreement between the NHL, the KHL, the player himself and the Predators."
Even after the KHL named him rookie of the week!
The entire interview segment regarding the KHL is rather revealing, especially the parts involving Radulov. There's even some reason to believe that the NHLPA may not, in fact, be a passive cheerleader for the Russian league's attempts to sign away players from the NHL.
Here's Kelly again:
"We strongly encourage our players that if you make a commitment, if you sign a contract, you ought to abide by the contract. You ought see it through. We will never encourage guys to breach contracts. We have spoken to the player, we have spoken to the agent. This is a fairly unique set of circumstances. This is a very young guy, who has decided to return home for some reasons which were public and some reasons which were personal. This isn't a guy who just breached a contract in any kind of a dismissive way. There are factors that haven't been publically reported.
"Unfortunately, he has become the center of a storm, between the National Hockey League and the KHL and on the international scene. There are consequences and ramifications which will flow from the Radulov situation, which potentially could affect the participation of NHL players in international events. I don't think he ever wanted to place himself in the middle of this tempest, but he's in it. We are trying to assist both the player and the agent to see if we can't find a way out of it, frankly.
Wow. Is this a game-changer in the Radulov controversy? When Kelly speaks of "some reasons which were public and some reasons which were personal," does it remind anyone else of the cloak and dagger/psychological warfare of the Evgeni Malkin saga?
That's something Watters seemed to be alluding to when he asked Kelly if the KHL had targeted Radulov in order to trigger a labor war between the two leagues; something Kelly denied was the case.
One more interesting KHL/NHL/International Hockey news bit today. Stu Hackel over at Slap Shot -- does the New York Times have a boner for the KHL or what? -- has a translated interview with IIHF President Rene Fasel that calls out Radulov for acting improperly. But more important are his comments about the NHL signing European talent without a transfer agreement:
"Because despite these differences, we share the main objective - to develop our sport worldwide. That is why the NHL, despite everything, brings their clubs in Europe, cooperating with us in the World Championships, the Olympic Games and now the Victoria Cup. On the other hand, the NHL must understand that by taking so many more players from Europe during this past year without compensation, they are killing European hockey.
"For the development of this game, Europe also needs good players and an interesting level of play in their national leagues. As in the story of the hen and the golden eggs, we are ready to share the golden eggs with the NHL, but if you kill the hen which lays them, no one will have them. The way things are going, pretty soon Europe simply won't be able to deliver as many Sundins, Forsbergs, Ovechkins and Malkins."
Like we've said here since the KHL was born: All of these new European hockey leagues are indirect pleas for the NHL to one day absorb them and create a global league. It's the writing on the wall, whether that wall is in Toronto or Helsinki or Moscow. We could be witnessing the awkward first steps of a history-making moment for the game.