The alarmists out there will undoubtedly be in full force today, pointing to Jaromir Jagr’s signing with the new Continental Hockey League as proof the league will serve as a modern-day World Hockey Association by luring top talent away from the NHL.
But from this corner, the KHL has done nothing but prove it can be a home for NHL castoffs, Jagr included. Prior to the free agent market opening July 1, Jagr made it clear to the New York Rangers that he very much wanted to return to the NHL, but the Rangers would not meet his contract demands in salary and term and didn’t seem to have much trouble parting with him.
And on the same day when teams seemed intent on throwing millions of dollars at marginal players, not one of the league’s 30 teams, including the Rangers, stepped up and made him a legitimate offer.
Doesn’t sound like much of a coup to me.
That’s not to say the KHL is all white noise. Obviously any league that has the cajones to offer Evgeni Malkin $12.5 million a year while he’s still under contract has to be taken seriously. The league apparently is being propped up by Russian billionaires, led by Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev, the Russian government and the country’s hockey federation.
But how is a league that is supposed to have a $22.5 million salary cap going to be able to compete with one that has a $60 million cap? The KHL tried to lure top teams from other European leagues and was unable to get even one, leaving it with a number of backwater Russian cities that have 5,000-seat rinks and charge the equivalent of about five bucks a ticket.
Which is exactly why you have to take everything people are saying about the KHL as a hockey superpower with a grain of salt. Even North American agents will talk the league up, but what else would you expect them to say? It’s in their clients’ interests to have another league compete with the NHL for players.
For example, some people will make a big deal out of the fact top Swedish players Mattias Weinhandl and Tony Martennson were lured to the KHL for this coming season. But the reason they were playing in Sweden in the first place is they couldn’t play in the NHL.
And aside from Jagr, what other players has the KHL poached from the NHL so far? Well, there’s Chris Simon, which exponentially decreases the odds of an NHL player being decapitated this coming season. Then there’s Andrei Zyuzin, John Grahame and Wade Dubielewicz.
Prior to July 1, there had been a lot of talk about Andrei Kostitsyn being lured to Russia and on the first day of free agency, he signed for three years with the Montreal Canadiens.
It’s also interesting to note the two Russian players taken in the first round of June’s entry draft – Nikita Filatov and Viktor Tikhonov – made it clear to everyone they have no contractual obligations in Russia and are intent on playing in North America immediately, even if that means playing in the minors or junior hockey.
Could the NHL have used Jagr next season? Of course. He remains a top talent with the on- and off-ice panache that serves the league well. But take a deep breath and relax – his signing does not signal a mass exodus of players leaving the NHL.
Ken Campbell, a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com, is at the NHL Draft in Ottawa covering the event. His blog normally appears Tuesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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