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NHL's Daly would be 'very surprised' if Alexander Romanov is eligible to play this season

Alexander Romanov, the Montreal Canadiens' top prospect and one of the best players outside the NHL, agreed to terms with the NHL team, but nobody can say for sure whether Romanov will be playing if the league manages to return to finish this season.
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We can add Alexander Romanov’s contract status to the long list of matters to be determined when the NHL emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and if it resumes the 2019-20 season. When the Montreal Canadiens came to terms with their top prospect Friday, they pointed out that it is “to be determined” whether or not Romanov’s contract will kick in if the NHL reconvenes this season or start in 2020-21.

That’s precisely why the Canadiens did not file the contract with the league. In order for the league to recognize a contract, it has to have a start date on it and that’s up in the air. But it’s certainly not a fait accompli that Romanov will be eligible to play for the Canadiens if the league manages to reboot this season. Far from it. In fact, at least from the NHL’s perspective, it’s unlikely.

When asked about the Romanov contract situation by, deputy commissioner Bill Daly replied in an email, “Montreal has not filed a contract with Romanov. Current year contracts are not permitted.” That appears to make it fairly cut-and-dried. When asked a follow-up question as to whether or not, from the league’s perspective, Romanov would not be allowed to play this season, Daly responded: “That’s tough for me to answer definitively, because it depends on a number of variables that haven’t been decided yet. But I can certainly say I would be very surprised if he would ever be eligible to play during the balance of the 2019-20 season.”

So there you have it. Clear as mud. Under normal circumstances, teams would be able to sign players such as Romanov once the transfer signing period opens April 30 and use them in the playoffs, provided they’re free of their contractual obligations with their European club teams, as Romanov is. That’s precisely what happened last season with defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the middle of the first round of the playoffs and subsequently played two-post seasons for them. But as we’ve all learned, these are hardly normal circumstances.

“The rules could change, so we’ll see,” said Romanov’s agent, Dan Milstein. “At the moment the league suspended the games due to COVID, they did prohibit signings for this season, but when we resume playing, we shall see. I’ve had numerous conversations with the NHLPA and we don’t know if or when the season is going to resume, but if it does, this is one of the topics that will be brought up and discussed in the normal course of business between the NHL and the NHLPA.” Asked if he will lobby to have Romanov’s contract kick in this season, Milstein responded, “Of course I’m going to lobby for that.”

Regardless of whether or not Romanov plays this season or next for the Canadiens, many believe GM Marc Bergevin and his staff got the steal of the 2018 draft when they selected him 38th overall. Romanov was ranked in THN's recent Future Watch edition as the Canadiens, No. 1 prospect and the 10th-best draft-affiliated prospect outside the NHL. The grandson of former Soviet great defenseman (and coach) Zinetula Bilyaletdinov, Romanov is an undersized, but supremely skilled defenseman who combines great skating with a terrific mind for the game. His footwork is something to behold and supports the attack like an extra forward. There is not much concern over the fact that he has played sparingly in the KHL for the powerful Central Army team because he has been so dynamic against his peers. He was named to the World Junior Championship all-star team in both 2019 and 2020 and led all players in the 2019 tournament with seven assists and all defensemen in points with eight.

Romanov has already expressed his eagerness to get to North America and has said he would start his career in the American League if need be. That’s almost certainly not going to happen, but it speaks to his enthusiasm for the game. TSN director of scouting Craig Button doesn’t see Romanov as a No. 1 defenseman, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have an impact. “He reminds me a lot of Guy Lapointe,” Button said. “Guy Lapointe was never a No. 1 defenseman, but he’s in the Hall of Fame. He played defense, he was on the rush, he was engaged in the game and he was competitive physically. (Romanov) plays the game on his toes. He’s not just on his toes physically. Mentally he’s on his toes.”

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