TORONTO – One of the most powerful men in Russian hockey was sitting down for a hotel breakfast of oatmeal, coffee and a bagel. He had also asked for a glass of orange juice, twice.
The waitress poured a glass for one of his dining companions and began to walk away.
“And juice for me, excuse me,” Alexander Medvedev said with a chuckle. “Don’t forget me.”
He has been a hard man to ignore, as president of the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League, which is preparing to begin its third season as a source of angst and curiosity among NHL fans. The league has signed a handful of recognizable players, including a five-year deal recently awarded to forward Maxim Afinogenov, and it has designs on bigger names down the road.
Medvedev, who is also chief executive of Gazprom, a Russian natural resources giant, is using his vacation time to attend the world hockey summit in Toronto this week. He said the KHL is seeking to spread a message of peace.
“It’s a great opportunity to meet people here, to exchange opinions and, if not to solve problems, then to at least identify the challenges,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m rather sure that, in co-operation, we could reach much more than in conflict.”
The KHL is comprised of 24 teams playing in four countries, including Russia, Latvia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
“In the beginning, maybe we could make some parallels with the Cold War,” Medvedev said. “But now, the situation is much better, because we have established a system of dispute resolution, and this system is based on the gentleman’s agreement of respecting the contracts.”
Two KHL teams will host exhibitions against NHL opposition this fall, with the Carolina Hurricanes set to play SKA St. Petersburg on Oct. 4, while the Phoenix Coyotes will play Dinamo Riga in Latvia two days later.
“Our target is to finally come to a comprehensive framework agreement with the NHL, which will cover all the aspects of the competition, including preparation of the players,” Medvedev said. “Instead of fighting and competing for the limited amount of top-level players, (we want) to create a system which will have more stars, more very good players and diversified talents.”
He echoed concerns raised at the summit on Tuesday, when a ranking official from the Czech Republic outlined the dangers of having players from Europe move to North America before they have matured. Medvedev said that, of 250 young Russian players who relocated to North America for junior hockey over the last decade, only 12 had managed to land regular employment in the NHL.
Later in the day, talk shifted to the possibility of a Russian returning home, as Ilya Kovalchuk remained in limbo. A 17-year, US$102-million offer from the New Jersey Devils had been rejected by the NHL, and Medvedev said the KHL has been in contact.
“If it would happen, obviously, it would be a great event,” Medvedev had said in the morning. “Because one of the top stars of the NHL would come to play in the KHL, and it would mean that there is an obvious appreciation of the quality of the game and the level of the league.”
Medvedev did not offer a timeline for realizing his goal of a comprehensive agreement with the NHL.
“It depends not only on us, but also on the NHL,” he said. “Currently, we are in dialogue with the NHL. We know the agenda for the discussion. It’s like the world—for a long time, it was a bipolar world, when the Soviet Union and the United States dominated the international arena.
“Then it was a one-polar world, after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. But the world is changing in a multi-polar direction, and the same is inevitable in hockey, also.”