October 22, 2009
Michael Nylander(notes), as all of us know now, has been assigned to the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins for a conditioning stint. As Greg Wyshynski pointed out, minor league conditioning lasts a maximum of two weeks, so this move would also appear to put a timetable on Nylander's departure from the Capitals.
If the Washington Capitals are in the final stages of moving the Swede to another team, we have to agree that there are only two leagues in the world that can afford Nylander's salary -- the NHL and the KHL. Rumors from the KHL about Nylander started flying across the ocean in the summer, when Avangard Omsk admitted trying to sign him, and even Jaromir Jagr confessed that Nylander called him to discuss life in the KHL.
I don't have any new information from the KHL about the Swede and teams looking at the possibility of acquiring his services. Figuring out where Nylander will end up is like taking the Multistate Bar Exam -- you are looking for the best possible answer, and not exactly the right answer.
Therefore, in order to get to the best answer, I will start eliminating the not so good ones.
In order for a KHL team to afford Michael Nylander, two conditions must be met. First, the team has to be one of the rich KHL clubs in order to afford his salary. Second, that team has to have a roster spot open for a foreign born player. I will remind you that any KHL team can only have five foreign born players on their roster, only one of who could be a goaltender.
Let's start with the first condition: Clubs, which can afford Nylander and are known to sign foreign born players. Here's the list: Dynamo Moscow, SKA St. Petersburg, Ak Bars Kazan, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Salavat Yulaef Ufa, Avangard Omsk and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.
Dynamo Moscow has already decided to stay away from Michael Nylander. It should be noted, though, that mostly Swedish born players carry the team on their shoulders thus far in the season with Johan Harju, Linus Omark and Mattias Weinhandl. Add Jiri Hudler and a former New Jersey Devil Karel Rachunek, and the five roster spots for foreign born players are taken. Leo Komarov, who is listed as a Finnish player, actually has a Russian passport and does not count towards the quota.
SKA St. Petersburgh is one of the teams recently reported as being in the mix for Nylander. They may need a center, but Joel Kwiatkowski, Ray Giroux, Robert Esche, Nils Ekman and Petr Äajánek take up all five foreign born player roster spots.
Ak Bars Kazan are playing below their level of expectation. The team was also reported to be interested in Nylander. They may need a center. Having Niko Kapanen, Jarkko Immonen, Janne Pesonen and Mikael Tellqvist leaves one roster spot open for a foreign born player. But the fact that Nylander played for the team during the lockout is actually against the Swede. The team head coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov does not really like Nylander for the way he treated the team. Bilyaletdinov once reportedly told one journalist that "Nylander has a problem with his head."
Nylander played five games for the club, recording one assist and one minor penalty before jumping on a plane out of Kazan leaving the club. They do hold grudges in Tatarstan.
Salavat Yulaef has only three foreign born players on their roster. But this is the most "loaded" club in the KHL. With Sergei Zinoviev, Viktor Kozlov and Andrei Taratukhin, Salavat does not really need Nylander in the face-off circle.
Avangard Omsk was very open earlier this year about their desire to obtain Nylander. Until one day Anatoli Bardin, Omsk Governor's Assistant in charge of hockey, said that Nylander should have joined when called, and that the club was not interested in him anymore. Eric Perrin joined the club from the Atlanta Thrashers as the center for Jaromir Jagr(notes). The other three roster spots for foreign born players are filled by Jakub Klepis, Lasse Kukkonen and Karri Ramo.
But, regardless of Bardin's praise for Perrin, Avangard still needs a first class center for Jagr. And despite their official "out of the running for the Swede" comments, the club may still be interested in Nylander. To create a spot for him, Avangard will have to either trade or release one of their foreign born players. Just ask Radek Bonk, who was "released" by Lokomotiv Yaroslavl after coming over to the KHL from the Nashville Predators, how easily it can be done.
That brings us to the aforementioned club from Yaroslavl. After releasing Bonk, Lokomotiv has four foreign born players Richard Zedník, Josef Vasicek, Daniel Tjarnqvist and Zbynek Irgl, leaving one spot still open. According to Russian analysts, Lokomotiv does need a strong center. Earlier in the season, it was reported that Bonk was actually released in order to create a spot for Nylander. Even Radek Bonk(notes) in his interview to Sovetsky Sport said he had heard about such possibility. At the time, the Finnish head coach of the club Kari Heikkila called the rumors regarding Nylander's arrival in Yaroslavl "absurd."
But one has to know that Lokomotiv's management is one of the best in the KHL and one of the most closed. You hardly ever hear any leaks or rumors coming out of Yaroslavl's front office. I do believe that it is Lokomotiv who is still having their sights set on Nylander despite Heikkila's official dismissal of such reports. Also worth noting, Lokomotiv will not take a "cat in a bag" after burning themselves with Bonk's signing. They want to know that a player can play.
Could Nylander's trip to the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins for a conditioning stint be the shopping window "touch and feel" sort of move?
To summarize all of the stated above, in my opinion Lokomotiv Yaroslavl are the front runners for Nylander, followed by Ak Bars Kazan (who may forget their grudges because they do have to start winning). Avangard Omsk is still in the mix.
As for the rest? Not likely.