Former Canadian World Junior hero Jeff Glass is on his fifth team in six seasons in Russia and he has seen a lot of both the good and bad of the Kontinental Hockey League. But with the Russian ruble in a freefall and the league in disarray, this is the worst he’s ever seen it.
With boots on the ground, or at least skates on the ice, Glass puts a face to the stories that have been circulating throughout the hockey world about the KHL lately. Glass, who backstopped the 2005 Canadian junior team to a gold medal, but never played in the NHL, said he is thankful for the opportunity the KHL has given him to continue playing and make lucrative money, but it seems to him the whole thing is teetering on the brink of collapse.
“It’s not good here right now,” Glass told thn.com in a telephone interview. "Guys are looking to get out. I’m not trying to expose the league, but none of this is right and the players are getting hosed right now and there’s no representation here. Everything had been fair up until about last season and things seem to be falling apart right now. And the ruble is making it tenfold because everyone is starting to panic.”
The decline of the ruble, triggered by the downward spiral of oil prices and the economic sanctions arising from Russia’s occupation of Ukraine, has caused most of the financial turmoil. For example, Glass signed a contract this season with Lada Tolyatti that called for him to be paid the equivalent of $1.1 million (U.S.), but with all contracts in the KHL paid in rubles, he figures he’s making the equivalent of $650,000 to $700,000. When he signed his contract, the ruble was trading at between 33 and 34 rubles to an American dollar. It now costs about 60 rubles to buy an American dollar today.
And he’s still one of the lucky ones. At least his team has paid its players on time. According to Glass, Atlant is on the verge of collapse and three other teams of which he’s aware – Sibir, Medvescak and Dinamo Riga – have not paid their players or coaches in three months. Glass said he has been hearing around the league that all three teams have been selling off their top players and he expects players in Sibir, at least, will start seeing paychecks soon.
He said there have been some wildcat strikes around the league, comprising of players who are holding out to have their contracts renegotiated to reflect the declining ruble. He said the situation has had an effect on players of all nationalities, but also said players from outside Russia are getting very wary of their futures.
“Guys are starting to get very nervous,” Glass said. “Nobody plans on living in Russia post-hockey. Everybody wants to take these rubles and move them into Euros or dollars and nobody is able to do that now.”
But the ruble isn’t the only problem. The league is currently a 28-team behemoth when the model supports only about 15. Glass said the expansion has watered the league down and created teams that cannot afford to pay the salaries.
“The KHL, from on the ground, is not looking so hot right now,” Glass said. “And you can see there’s a lot of panic from management, from players, from everybody, agents. Nobody is sure what to do. And you can understand. Nobody’s making any money right now.”