Ilya Bryzgalov and Henrik Zetterberg recently suggested some Russian NHL players could opt to remain with the KHL when the NHL lockout ends, but that could be easier said than done.
Bryzgalov believes some “big players – especially those with Russian passports” – could decide to remain in the KHL, citing “major companies” in Russia willing to pay top players big money, possibly more than they stand to make in the NHL.
Zetterberg, meanwhile, claimed he “knows for a fact Russians will probably stay” in the KHL, as that league “honors the contracts” with its players, an unsubtle dig at the NHL’s attempt to reduce the players share of revenue with increased escrow.
I don’t doubt there are Russian players unhappy with the NHL’s attempts to claw back more from their salaries, and some might well consider staying home rather than rejoin the NHL when the lockout ends.
Problem is, unless they’re either restricted or unrestricted free agents, those under NHL contracts have no choice but to return to their respective NHL teams.
The NHL and KHL currently have an agreement in place which prevents either side from poaching players under contract. In other words, if a Russian player is under an NHL contract, the KHL must honor that contract, and vice versa.
Some suggest the fact the NHL is trying to increase escrow payments constitutes a violation of the terms of the contract the player signed with his NHL team. Problem is, the standard player contract is governed by the guidelines of the CBA it was signed under for as long as that CBA remains in place. Once that agreement has expired, any existing contract falls under the guidelines of the subsequent new agreement.
Changes in a new collective bargaining agreement which affects existing contracts becomes legally binding once the NHL and NHLPA sign off on it.
That’s how the NHL was able to get a 24 per cent salary rollback on existing contracts at the start of the previous CBA, and why no player tried to contest it after the fact.
In other words, once the PA signs off on the new agreement, the player is stuck by its terms, even if he didn’t agree with it or voted to reject it.
He can try to contest those changes, but odds are he won’t have much success, especially if the KHL continues to honor its agreement with the NHL.
Some folks have pointed to Alexander Radulov bolting for the KHL in 2008 while still under contract with the Nashville Predators as proof that league could try to welsh on its agreement with the NHL if, say, a major star like Alexander Ovechkin wanted to remain in Russia.
Fact is, Radulov and the KHL made that move just prior to the implementation of the agreement with the NHL. Since then, no KHL team has attempted to sign a player under an NHL contract.
Sure, it’s possible they might try to find some way around it if a star like Ovechkin wanted to remain in the KHL, but the ramifications would be serious.
The NHL would take immediate legal action to prevent that player from participating in KHL games. That would draw in the International Ice Hockey Federation, meaning the KHL could face stiff penalties for not honoring their agreement with the NHL. That could include sanctions preventing preventing Russian players from participating in international tournaments, including the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
The last thing the Russian government wants is anything that could upset player participation in the Sochi Olympics, s0 it’s doubtful the KHL would open that can of worms.
What could happen, however, is a possible increase in the number of Russian restricted or unrestricted free agents heading to the KHL rather than remaining in the NHL.
Even then, that’s not a certainty.
It’s true the KHL has expanded and improved since its start-up back in 2008, and there are more major companies willing to invest in expensive Russian talent.
Still, those KHL teams tried in the past to lure away big name Russian talent from the NHL and, except for Radulov, met with failure every time.
Stories still make the rounds of some KHL teams struggling to meet payroll, with players going weeks without receiving paychecks. The specter of the plane crash which killed the entire roster of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl last September still hangs over the league.
While its true some star players could earn more in the KHL, that’s only on short-term (one to two year) deals so far. The NHL, meanwhile, provides economic stability, including guaranteed contracts for longer terms, as well as better quality travel, accommodations, meals, medical care, promotional opportunities, and of course, a superior level of competition.
It’s possible more Russian players could head to the KHL under the next CBA. Time will tell, however, if this becomes a real or empty threat.