Anyone in the mood for another Cold War?
In terms of frosty relationships, that’s exactly what Russia and North America have begun to engage in thanks to battles over players such as Nikita Filatov, Alexander Radulov and… Jason Krog? Sure, him too.
The spat between the newly minted Kontinental League and the NHL has been well documented lately, but one sub-plot that should not be overlooked is the influence of a certain powerful politician who claims to have little influence.
The KHL has more 800-pound gorillas than the Moscow Zoo, but the biggest Silverback in the land – hockey or otherwise – is “former” president Vladimir Putin.
Yes, Putin is technically the prime minister, ceding power to hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year, but make no mistake; the tough-as-nails judo enthusiast knows how to get things done one way or another.
And one thing Putin would love to have cemented quickly involves the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in the Russian resort city of Sochi.
Along with judo, Putin is a big hockey fan. I’m sure you see where I’m going with this: The world is coming to Russia in 2014 and the biggest stage will be set for the men’s hockey tournament.
But the NHL has made it known it has little to no interest in trucking its finest players all the way to Russia in the middle of winter, thereby interrupting its own season in the process, just so its players have a chance to get injured and win an award that isn’t the Stanley Cup.
And fair play to that. The Olympics are a great event for bolstering hockey’s profile, but business is business.
The 2010 Olympics in Vancouver will definitely feature the best of the NHL and Putin is quite aware of this fact.
For players in the KHL, the journey to Vancouver is just as taxing, so why the double standard?
Well, because the NHL holds all the cards, that’s why.
Russia could boycott 2010, but you’d still get the best from Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as the two North American squads and other solid European entries from Switzerland and Germany.
If the NHL stays out of Sochi in 2014, however, you don’t get any of the top talent from those teams.
So what does this all mean? My guess is Putin uses his influence to make sure the KHL and NHL are simpatico by the time 2010 rolls around.
This likely won’t help a team like Nashville get Alexander Radulov back in the short-term, but it may prevent it from happening in the future.
Perhaps the clock rolls back to the late 1980s, where Russians develop in Russia, then come to the NHL a bit later in their careers. In return, maybe the Jaromir Jagr model becomes more common, where a star in the final stage of his NHL career takes off for a few years closer to home and makes a little extra change in the process.
Either way, you can bet the politicking will be fierce in the near future, behind closed doors or way out in the open.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appear Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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