Well, at the very least, Alex Ovechkin has succeeded in creating a buzz for his two public appearances in Toronto Thursday. By boldly stating he’ll play in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, whether the NHL sanctions participation or not, he assured his sponsors of a great turnout and a pack of hungry hockey scribes and broadcasters who will be hanging on his every word.
How else do you explain Ovechkin’s comments Tuesday afternoon? Energizer and CCM, the two companies Ovechkin is in The Center of the Universe™ to promote, must be doing cartwheels right about now.
To be sure, the timing of his remarks was curious to say the least. At a media availability session in New York that was co-sponsored by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association, Ovechkin told ESPN.com he intends on suiting up for the Russian Olympic team in his home country in 2014 regardless of what the NHL or the Washington Capitals think.
“Nobody can say to me, ‘You can’t play for your country in the Olympic Games,’ ” Ovechkin told ESPN.com.
Well, hate to break it to you, big guy, but the NHL and your team might have a little different perspective on that one. You see, the Capitals will be paying you $9,538,461 in 2013-14 to play for them, not to take three weeks off to travel across the world and risk serious injury playing in what will be a second-rate tournament if the NHL isn’t involved.
Good luck getting the insurance on your contract you’ll need if you bolt your team and decide to play for your country.
Players such as Ovechkin are talking tough now, but we’ll see how serious they are when they face serious suspensions and the possibility their contracts will be rendered null and void if they were to sustain a serious injury.
The situation with Jiri Hudler, meanwhile, isn’t as cut-and-dried as the NHL might want people to believe it is. Without a doubt, the whole thing put the International Ice Hockey Federation in an untenable position.
Hudler was granted an international transfer card from the IIHF, which will allow him to play for Moscow Dynamo this season, despite the fact that, through his agent Petr Svoboda, he had filed for binding salary arbitration with the Detroit Red Wings.
And speaking of wanting it both ways, the NHL claims that when a player files for arbitration it effectively puts him under contract for at least the next season. But what the league didn’t mention is that it retains “walk-away” rights for every decision, which essentially puts the player out of a job if the team walks away from the award, the way the New York Rangers did with Nikolai Zherdev. So how exactly does that make it a binding agreement?
And the IIHF requested information pertinent to the case from USA Hockey and didn’t receive it in a timely manner. That’s no different than what the IIHF often does for transfers going the other way, often when it comes to junior players leaving Russia for the Canadian Hockey League. In many of those cases, the IIHF has asked for documentation and has been rebuffed by spiteful Russian teams, then granted the transfer card whether the player’s team had a legitimate case or not.
“There is certainly concern about the integrity of the process,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told THN.com in an email, referring to the Hudler case. He also said USA Hockey will definitely be appealing.
To be sure, things such as the Hudler case will make it easier for the NHL to forget about its commitments to international hockey and scrap the use of NHLers in the Olympics. And if that happens, expect more star NHL players such as Ovechkin to threaten to break ranks and play, anyway.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell’s Cuts, appears Mondays.
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