Vadim Shipachyov’s saga with the Vegas Golden Knights came to a close late last week when, by announcing his voluntary retirement from the league, he was free to head back to the KHL, where he signed days later with his former team, SKA St. Petersburg. And upon his return, Shipachyov opened up about his time in North America and offered a warning to Russian players thinking about taking their game to the NHL.
“Now I know that Russian players should think 10 times before leaving for abroad,” Shipachyov said, per SKA St. Petersburg’s website. “It’s different from what the clubs and agents tell you.”
In a candid interview, Shipachyov said that he was told upon signing with the Golden Knights that he was one of the players the team would be counting on to step up, which is no surprise given the significant expectations he carried entering this season. Over the past few seasons in the KHL, Shipachyov had become more than a point-per-game player for St. Petersburg, contributing to two Gagarin Cup-winning clubs. However, before the season began, Vegas’ roster issues — an issue of their own creation due to a big haul of defensemen in the expansion draft — resulted in the Russian pivot being sent to the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
According to Shipachyov, GM George McPhee said at the time that he would only remain in the minors for a short period until a roster spot was cleared, and McPhee said as much in his own press conference following Shipachyov’s retirement. “We had explained, ‘This is a roster move,’ ” McPhee said. “ ‘We don’t expect this to be a long time, a couple days, four days, maybe a week.’ ”
Once opening night came and no trade had been made, though, Shipachyov was told he would start the year in the AHL. “Face to face I was told one thing,” he said. “But when it came to hockey, the story changed.”
Eventually, Shipachyov was called up by the Golden Knights, suiting up for three games and averaging 10:35 per outing, and he said he was all right with what was given to him in terms of ice time and that he simply wanted to play. However, after his brief stint, Shipachyov was sent back to the AHL, a move McPhee said was made in order to get Shipachyov up to speed with the North American game.
“He needed to assimilate a little more and work on his pace of play,” McPhee said. “And we were willing to work with him…The second time around when we assigned him to Chicago, he needed some time to play to see if he could adjust his pace of play to the North American game. He wasn’t willing to do that.”
McPhee continued by saying that Shipachyov was being outplayed by other centers on the Golden Knights’ roster, adding “whoever is playing well plays, irrespective of your contract, how much you get paid, your status or where you were drafted.”
Sent to the AHL for a second time, though, Shipachyov reported only briefly before deciding to leave the team, which subsequently led to his suspension without pay by Vegas and permission from the Golden Knights for Shipachyov’s agent to seek a new home for the center.
“I read what was being written, and I didn’t understand what was happening, it was like they wanted me to cancel my contract,” Shipachyov said. “Vegas didn’t search for other options, despite it being the better option for them. They obviously wanted me to cancel the contract and give them money…Also, I heard that if I play well in the AHL, I still won’t be played in the first team. After all of this, I decided that I didn’t want to be there.”
McPhee, however, noted that there was potential for a trade to be worked out, despite what Shipachyov told the SKA website. And according to a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, there was talk between the Golden Knights and the Ducks that would’ve seen the 30-year-old center shipped off to injury-riddled Anaheim in exchange for a mid- or late-round draft pick. To hear McPhee tell it, though, Shipachyov had no interest at all in staying in North America.
“Vadim did not want to put in any time at the AHL level and he didn’t want to be traded to another club, which we could have done. He just wanted to go home, so we’ve accommodated him and we wish him well,” McPhee said. “He’s a good player and a good guy. It just didn’t work out for us or him here.”
So, on Nov. 9, Shipachyov’s retirement became official and he repaid the portion of his signing bonus that was owed to the Golden Knights, closing the book on his NHL tenure. And, given his experience, it seems unlikely he’ll ever return.
That said, the door is open for Shipachyov to try his hand in North America again at some point in the future. He’ll have to wait at least one season in order to return from his voluntary retirement, but McPhee said if Shipachyov made the decision to try his hand elsewhere in the NHL, the Golden Knights would work something out with his chosen team.
“We wouldn’t stand in his way,” McPhee said. “We would do a sign-and-trade and let him play wherever he wants to play. We would make it easy for them. If some other team wants to sign him or have him play here, we’d make it happen.”
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.