With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?
Thursday July 24th 2008, 11:00 pm

You have to wonder if Rangers GM Glen Sather regrets being so accommodating to Omsk General Manager Anatoli Bardin when he visited New York with the goal of wooing Jaromir Jagr to play in Russia last April. At the time, with Jagr a dominating force on the ice for the Rangers, the idea of him abandoning his NHL career in favor of Russia’s brand new hockey league seemed absurd. Fast forward three months and Jagr’s about to step off a plane in Siberia, in a city he’ll call home for at least the next two hockey seasons. And Bardin’s crowing about his summer coup:

After four or five months, the majority of people had already ceased to trust that Jagr would come. They said that it was [the work of] a PR company. We fought this battle to the end. And it was not so simple. Now it seems he’s arrived and all is well. And in fact, very many teams in the NHL sought Jagr and offered serious contracts. The NHL has said, and will say, that we gave Jagr huge money. Nothing of the kind! The man simply saw how the conditions are here, the infrastructure, the attitude towards him, and he has chosen our league and Omsk Avangard. And by the way, it was nice that we not only took Jaromir Jagr away from the NHL, but that we still did not give away Cherepanov.

Maybe it’s just me, but do these sound like the words of a man who claimed three months ago that he would soon sign an agreement of cooperation with Sather, making their two teams partner clubs so as to facilitate the exchange coaches and players in order to share their experience? Of course, this is the same man who at the time claimed that Alexei Cherepanov would be allowed to join the Rangers for training camp this fall — an idea Cherepanov has dismissed outright. Then again, in Bardin’s eyes, the impact of Jagr’s acquisition reaches far beyond the two clubs. Bardin continues, citing Jagr’s arrival in Omsk as proof that his country’s new league is on the path to success:

I believe that Jagr is a very serious acquisition not only for Avangard, but for all of Russian hockey. It says that we are on the correct path. Regarding the rivalry between the NHL and KHL: my opinion is there is no rivalry present. These are simply ordinary business projects. The NHL has been engaged in it for more than one hundred years, the management of the KHL — a league which was only recently established — is only starting. But all the same is working professionally and calmly. You know, to me it is very nice to see. And now the NHL has become agitated. And I that that it is more a problem of the NHL’s than our league. And that is not big words, it is pride for the fatherland.

And you thought we were just talking about hockey…

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