When the latest issue of THN hits your mailboxes or corner stores, you’ll find an opinion column by yours truly about the fractured relationship between the Kontinental League and the NHL. For the piece, I interviewed legendary New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello and a player agent with clients in both leagues who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Both interviews yielded lots of great stuff – some of which was used in my article, some of which unfortunately didn’t fit. But that’s why the web is so fantastic; infinite space.
The following are some interesting tidbits that came out of those interviews that didn’t make it to the magazine.
For Lamoriello, one of the biggest changes in Russia in recent years has been the education level of parents in regards to their sons’ pro careers.
“If you’re an elite player,” he said, “you’re clear on your options.”
With contracts being structured differently in Russia (i.e. there is no standard three-year entry-level deal that players must sign), a young phenom and his folks need to think ahead more now than ever: Should an 18-year-old player sign a five-year contract with Spartak or Dynamo, when an NHL team might come calling for them in two years?
That talent factor has also affected NHL draft patterns. Nikita Filatov was taken right about where he should have gone (sixth overall to Columbus in 2008), partly because of his wealth of skill, but also because he made it so clear that he wanted to play in North America, whether in the NHL, American League or major junior.
Players such as Alexei Cherepanov and Dmitri Orlov, however, saw their draft stock drop when it appeared they would stay in Russia for at least the next season, therefore casting doubt about future campaigns. As Lamoriello noted, NHL teams aren’t willing to gamble on a first round pick, “unless the player is right at the top and you know his contract status.”
On the issue of contract status, Lamoriello noted that it’s not as murky in Russia as some have made it out to be, especially considering the agents who are negotiating the deals.
“A lot of the contracts are signed by the same reps we have in the U.S.,” he said.
The agent I spoke to is one of those reps and shed additional light on why the situation has flared up so quickly in recent years.
“What you have happening,” he said, “is these Russian teams are stepping up and paying Russian players.”
So if you’re Russian (or Czech or Slovak) and you don’t want to be homesick, isn’t it nice to now have the option of getting fair market value for your services? That being said, the agent still didn’t see the KHL as on par with the NHL by any stretch of the imagination just yet.
“There’s maybe 25 guys in the KHL right now who could play in the NHL,” he said.
Assuming those players include NHL refugees such as Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Radulov and Jiri Hudler, it becomes a pretty small pool of players with NHL capabilities, but careers exclusive to the KHL.
But the KHL is young and with a fledgling junior circuit starting up this year, who knows how the issue will play out? For both Lamoriello and the agent, ‘amicably’ was the best and only answer – for the entire hockey world.
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 will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.
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