Across the Atlantic, barely three weeks remain for the players and management of the NHL to reach a deal on a new collective pay agreement. And, with both sides seemingly far from any compromise, speculation is growing that Sep. 15’s deadline will see confirmation of a lock-out, shuttering rinks across North America until at least Christmas while a deal is thrashed out to get some kind of a tournament back on the ice.
In Russia, where memories of the influx of suddenly unemployed NHL stars in 2004-5 are still fresh, this news has been greeted with a mixture of anticipation, trepidation and wild gossip. Star names such as Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Ilya Bryzgalov have all been linked with returns to Russia, even if only on short-term conditional contracts which would allow them to leave as soon as the puck is dropped on the other side of the ocean. Meanwhile, the growing interest in KHL hockey worldwide could see more stars tempted to head east in search of competitive hockey and a competitive wage – something which was not so visibly on offer during earlier NHL shutdowns in 1994-5 and 2004-5.
For KHL President Alexei Medvedev, this presents both opportunities and challenges, as he told Sovietsky Sport at the weekend. While the arrival of internationally-renowned talent can only boost the burgeoning interest in the KHL, it’s important to ensure that the league is not disrupted by “here today, gone tomorrow” players looking to pick up a paycheck while their North American employers are idle.
“We are striving to ensure that those who come to us from over the ocean are not just tourists, but players who will come and do battle for real,” Medvedev said. He also noted that there would be no changes to regulations about player salaries, club budgets, limits on foreigners and requirements for young players to be suited up for KHL games.
Meanwhile, as players consider their options for the coming season, the announcement that Dynamo Moscow won’t be leading the bidding for Alexander Ovechkin has come as a surprise to many – apparently including the player’s mother!
Ovechkin learned his trade at Dynamo before heading to the NHL, and it was widely expected that Luzhniki would be his first choice in the event of a lock-out. However, the Blue-and-Whites have declined to enter a bidding war for the star’s services, with club president Arkady Rotenberg suggesting that the reported $3million salary would be better invested in the club’s youth program. “I don’t want to compete with Igor Sechin and Rosneft [the new owners of cross-town rivals CSKA],” Rotenberg said. “It’s not right when clubs can spend any amount of money on players.” Similar comments from the club’s general director Andrei Safronov prompted Mrs. Ovechkina to call Rotenberg and ask whether Ovi should expect to play for nothing if he returned to Moscow.
Meanwhile, Dynamo’s head coach Oleg Znarok told journalists that, in the event of a lock-out, he would move swiftly for Leonid Komarov, part of last season’s Gagarin Cup winning squad, but would need to think long and hard about making a bid for Ovechkin. That seems to pave the way for CSKA to move in, with general manager Sergei Fedorov already saying his dream-team would include a line of Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Pavel Datsyuk. Datsyuk, another Dynamo Moscow alumni, said over the weekend that he would decide his plans for the coming season in mid-September, when the NHL negotiations reached their deadline.