NHL, KHL 'understanding' a roadmap to future agreement?

Yesterday the KHL and the NHL signed a Memorandum of Understanding. It is not a transfer agreement and, according to Gary Bettman, there may not be an agreement for some time. Moreover, there may not be an agreement at all.

The KHL and the NHL started closely working together last year, when KHL President Medvedev met with Gary Bettman in Washington. Both leagues set up working groups that met a few times in Canada to discuss their differences to try to find out the solution. Both men of power also met in Vancouver during the Olympics as well. Afterwards, KHL President Medvedev made a statement that this fall NHL teams will hold two exhibition games in Russia.

When I spoke with Bettman a few weeks ago, I asked him whether the agreement to have exhibition games in Russia meant that both sides were close to signing the transfer agreement. But Bettman told me "that's not true. There are no discussions about the transfer agreement going on. We're not focusing on the transfer agreement. We have done without one for a number of years. And we'll continue, I suppose, at least for the foreseeable future, maintain it that way. On the other hand we're having some discussions to see if we can do some exhibition games."

As for the NHL going to Russia to play exhibition games, according to Bettman it means "there is an opportunity to bring our game to the great fans of our game in Russia. It doesn't mean anything more than that."

And now the two sides signed this Memorandum of Understanding. According to the information released on the matter, NHL will recognize standard player contracts of the KHL. The document also mentions that both sides will exchange information about player contracts of both leagues, as well as information about free agent status of players. Furthermore, both leagues have worked out a procedure to resolve possible problem situations that concern player transfers between the leagues.

KHL President Medvedev stated that "today we took an important step towards establishing a constructive partnership and mutual cooperation between the two leagues. We expect that in the future all questions regarding interaction between the KHL and NHL will be concluded in a solely civilized manner within the framework of the agreement reached today."

While this Memorandum should provide a roadmap for at least some problematic situations, a lot of questions concerning player contracts will remain, especially those of younger players who have KHL contracts but want to enter the draft. KHL's rules concerning restricted free agents are the shackles bounding young players to their teams until they are 28. Of course there are some "gentleman's agreements" when players have an oral agreement that they can leave their KHL clubs for North America. But KHL clubs still hold those cards. And the Memorandum of Understanding doesn't seem to touch on that.

Will this "Russian factor" play against Russian prospects at this year's draft? Most certainly.

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