The NHL’s Best Kept Secret
Tuesday November 04th 2008, 12:08 am

This past weekend one of the headlines in the mainstream hockey media was the defection of Montreal prospect Pavel Valentenko, who split the Canadiens AHL farm club in Hamilton to return to Russia to attend to a “family matter”, only to sign with Dynamo Moscow as soon as his plane touched down. On Monday, a second scandal erupted when it was revealed that Ottawa Senator prospect Alexander Nikulin, unhappy with the perceived lack of opportunity he’d been given by the Sens and smarting over the message conveyed to him by his agent that his coach saw no future for him in the organization, had delivered the ultimatum that if he wasn’t traded by the end of the day he was leaving for Russia.

The Nikulin story was mentioned — in varying degrees of detail — on every show on XM’s NHL Home Ice channel over the course of the work day on Monday. The general theme: The KHL is at it again, signing players who are under contract with NHL teams. Hosts Mike Ross and Phil Esposito, during Espo’s afternoon In the Slot program, even went so far as to speculate about whether an NHL team could or should lure a guy like Ray Emery away from his KHL team and back to the NHL as an example of turnabout being fair play. Their conclusion? No, the NHL wouldn’t do that because they wouldn’t want to jeopardize their standing on the Alexander Radulov case by signing a player already under contract with a KHL team.

Pardon me?!

While the KHL has been vilified in recent months for enticing players with NHL contracts — Radulov in particular — to return home to play in Russia, NHL clubs have quietly signed five young Russian players who were under contract to KHL teams since Radulov’s signing was announced the day after the two leagues agreed to stop poaching each others’ players. It might just be the NHL’s best kept secret (now that the truth is out about Rick DiPietro’s knee injury, anyway). While folks here in North America are up in arms about guys like Radulov, Valentenko and Nikulin breaking their NHL contracts to go home and play in the KHL, no one seems to have noticed that a handful of players have done the opposite, signing contracts with NHL teams despite having valid deals in the KHL. For those who missed it — apparently every credentialed member of the North American media — here’s the list of those players, the dates they were signed, and the NHL teams that signed them:

Yes, that date is correct. The latest NHL “theft” took place only a day before news broke that Valentenko had signed with Dynamo Moscow.

In light of the fact that Ottawa GM Brian Murray was able to swing a late-day deal with Don Maloney to swap minor league defenseman Drew Fata for Nikulin, who now appears willing to stick stateside a little longer before taking his toys and going home, that leaves the current NHL vs. KHL score looking something like this:

NHL: 5 (Voynov, Loktionov, Mayorov, Grachev, Vasyunov)
KHL: 2 (Radulov, Valentenko)

Remind me again which league has the moral high ground here?

At the end of the day, I’m not particularly bothered by the fact that players are shuttling either way. As far as I’m concerned, for as long as the two leagues fail to hammer out a formal agreement that says otherwise, Vasyunov, who was getting little opportunity to play or develop in Yaroslavl, has as much right to seek out a situation that will help further his career as you or I do. Or Nikulin does. And Valentenko has as much right to return to Russia as you or I have to take a job closer to our own families (hey, it’s even better when it comes with a significant pay raise, right?) What I really object to is the hypocrisy being displayed by the media (and fans) in North America.

If you want to complain about the injustice or illegality of a player breaking their contract to play elsewhere, be my guest. But spare me the holier-than-thou, we’re right, they’re wrong bombast. Especially when your side is guilty of the same misdeed you’re railing against.

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Filed under: Evgeni Grachev, KHL

10 Comments so far
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    “For those who missed it — apparently every credentialed member of the North American media — here’s the list of those players, the dates they were signed, and the NHL teams that signed them:”

    If you can get off your soapbox for a second and realize that you made a blanket accusation just because 2 people said something that you did not like.

    This was wrong of you to do because there have been people who have been covering the NHL/KHL story way before you started this blog of yours.

    Many a person has been covering this story fairly and you lumped all of us into one basket because of Phil Esposito??????

    Esposito is not a real member of the hockey media, he is a talking head in sports talk radio where the goal is to say the dumbest thing possible in order to see who they can get to over react like you did.

    Tell me something are you seeing mainstream media wanting to see the NHL act that way?

    Can you name one member of the Ranger media who encouraged the Rangers try to get Cherepanov to break his contract?

    As for Grachev, you might want to go back to his statements made at the draft and at the Ranger development camp in which HE said that he was not under any kind of contract in Russia and was free to sign with the Rangers.

    And while you are listing Grachev as a “NHL Theft” you might want to take a look at how the KHL are claiming he is under contract first.

    Please next time you want to get upset direct it at those who deserve it not a blanket accusation.

    Comment by Jess 11.04.08 @ 6:54 am

    Great post, Laurie.

    Spare us, Jess.

    If you can get off your soapbox for a second and realize that you made a blanket accusation just because 2 people said something that you did not like.

    Do you not read the mainstream hockey press? The gropthink line that the KHL has been stealing NHL and AHL players whereas the NHL respects the sanctity of the contract and does not poach other KHL players in the absence of a transfer agreement has been propagated and regurgitated so often in the last few months that I think North American hockey writer hacks (which they almost all are) have a little paragraph that’s ready to be ctrl+c’ed when needed. Go read the stories on the radulov matter in the hockey news, tsn, and local press (basically anything not the nyt slapshot blog) and tell me that they deal with the matter in teh objective and balanced way that Laurie does. I think you’ll find that there’s a general thesis (with perhaps the exception or two here or there) that the KHL is doing something wrong while the NHL is taking the moral high ground, a position not supported by the facts.

    Can you name one member of the Ranger media who encouraged the Rangers try to get Cherepanov to break his contract?

    Are you kidding? If it didn’t happen in Cherepanov’s case (which I would be shocked if it didn’t, what do you think they tried to impart to him at the Prospects camp he attended? I wouldn’t let my employee going to a sales pitch/orientation meeting of a rival employer), that type of gentle nudging has certainly happened with other players (Malkin is the obvious one).

    As for Grachev, you might want to go back to his statements made at the draft and at the Ranger development camp in which HE said that he was not under any kind of contract in Russia and was free to sign with the Rangers.

    Anyone can say anything they like. It doesn’t matter what he says, it matters what whether a Russian court of law, not under American contract law, deems he has a valid contract.

    I happen to think Grachev should be able to play where he wants. Same goes for Matt Murley. I don’t think North American writers should be able to claim the moral high ground and lambast the KHL for behaving in the very same manner the NHL has and does. If the NHL is upset about hthe Radulov signing, what do you think the uproar was like in Russia when Malkin left? The world exists outside your backyard, Jess. Thank God there are people like Laurie who recognize that and are committed to writing intelligently and objectively about hockey.

    Comment by Rajeev 11.04.08 @ 10:50 am

    The NHL isn’t the only game in town, and they better get used to it. Maybe the lack of respect the NHL shows to their European players is coming back to haunt them. The NHL should promote their European players the way they deserve, instead of insulting them with commentators like Cherry, Milbury and Esposito. And if Semin thinks Ovechkin and others are better than Crosby, let him speak his mind, instead of insulting him. Isn’t free speech something we’re supposed to allow here? The NHL can’t have it their way all the time. Didn’t Malkin have a contract also before he was spirited off to Pittsburgh in the dark of night?

    Comment by kc 11.04.08 @ 10:55 am

    Until everyone gets on the same page, this will be a recurring theme in NHL/KHL relations.

    I think players should respect their contracts, but if contracts are being signed under duress (on either side of the Pacific), then players should do what is best for them. To the same end, I feel if someone flies the coop, they better be ready to pay a good chunk of rubles* and dollars back to their old team.

    *Rubles is just fun to say, even if it isn’t an accurate depiction of the fiscal station of Russia.

    Comment by #14 11.04.08 @ 12:14 pm

    Great post, Laurie.

    Spare us, Jess.

    Thank you! Great post Rajeev. As well to you kc. The NHL is just as guilty if not more than the KHL.

    Comment by luckyluck 11.04.08 @ 12:36 pm

    Raj

    Guess what? There have been mainstream writers who have been ripping the NHL for their behavior just as much as they have the KHL, they have been ripping the IIHF for their failures to stand up to both sides so forget your “spare us” and deal with the facts.

    People like Jeff Klein and Stu Hackel of the New York Times have been fairly and objectively covering this story since the days of the draft. Those are real journalists not Phil Esposito

    Phil Esposito is not and never has been a member of the hockey mainstream media, he is an out of work former player/front office buffoon who does not speak for the real reporters.

    You said that Laurie was being objective but the problem is that she was not when talking about Grachev.

    Tell me Raj do you know exactly how the Russians are claiming that they have a valid contract with Grachev?

    Try this one which is that Grachev’s contract with Yaroslavl did expire, Grachev choose not to sign a new contract.

    At the time Yaroslavl was part of the Russian Super League and when they became a part of the KHL that the KHL claimed that they had the claim rights to any player who played in the Super League.

    The KHL claimed Grachev’s contract even though it had expired and Grachev never signed a KHL contract.

    That is how they are claiming his rights not because Grachev broke a binding contract but because they extended it without his consent.

    Here is the next fact Raj, while playing the OHL Grachev’s contract with the Rangers is not in effect.

    Grachev is under the rules of the OHL/CHL/Hockey Canada. He is not getting anything more than a stipend for playing with Brampton but instead of going back to Russia to play in the KHL he chooses to stay in the OHL.

    How come?

    Take it further ask how come the KHL withdrew their claim on Nikita Filatov?

    Answer because exactly like Grachev he did not sign a KHL contract with his old team.

    Go further and my objection to Laurie’s post is this

    “For those who missed it — apparently every credentialed member of the North American media — here’s the list of those players, the dates they were signed, and the NHL teams that signed them:”

    It has been covered by TSN, THN (Ken Campbell continues to cover this story), CTV and the local teams for who those players play for, just for starters.

    Laurie blanket accused people unfairly and if that is your idea of objective reporting then check your backyard first.

    Spare me please from your bias as if you took the time to read others then you would already know that several people have trashed the NHL for their nonsense.

    Oh and why you are playing this backyard nonsense you can thank the Russian Hockey Federation for giving the NHL the excuse for no longer paying a dime for the transfer rights to any European player.

    You can thank the IIHF for not having the courage to suspend those players on any side for jumping ship with a binding contact. Thank them as well for claiming that they are powerless to do anything in the absence of a Player Transfer Agreement.

    And you can thank the NHL for sitting back and laughing at the rest of the hockey world for getting players for free.

    I know what is in my backyard Raj, can you say the same?

    Comment by Jess 11.06.08 @ 7:03 am

    People like Jeff Klein and Stu Hackel of the New York Times have been fairly and objectively covering this story since the days of the draft.

    I agree and I mentioned their blog specifically. The vast majority of the MSM has not taken an as-informed and nuanced view. There are exceptions here and there, of course, but the general tone and substance of the reporting has been of of arrogance and ignorance. phil esposito is not a journalist, but kevin allen and stan fishler are.

    That is how they are claiming his rights not because Grachev broke a binding contract but because they extended it without his consent.

    It doesn’t matter what their claiming. I’m sure in many cases, this may be one, where it is bogus. I’m not going to argue that the Russian are valiant heroes fighting for truth and justice in this world. I will argue that they are trying to do the same exact thing as the NHL, albeit with less sophistication and resources.

    What matters is that the only entity who can appropriately determine the validity of such a contract is a Russian court with the proper jurisdiction. What Lokomotiv has done may very well be valid according to Russian law. But that’s not really the point, the point is that there’s really no enforcement mechanism that can do anything about it, just as in the case with Matt Murley. Which is why he’s playing in Amur right now. Which story got more press in the MSM, Murley’s signing from an AHL team to a KHL team, or Vasyunov’s the other way?

    You can thank the IIHF for not having the courage to suspend those players on any side for jumping ship with a binding contact.

    The IIHF can’t do much here. There’s no transfer agreement to enforce. They can’t do a damn thing with respect to those players playing for KHL teams. They could have suspended Radulov from playing in IIHF tournaments, but that would have drawn the ire of the Russian federation for sure. And then, to be fair, wouldnt they had to suspend Malkin from those same tournaments? Actually, the IIHF did suspend some Russian players, Tarathukin and Khomitsky for example, for breaking their NHL contracts last season. How widely reported was that in the MSM?

    And you can thank the NHL for sitting back and laughing at the rest of the hockey world for getting players for free.

    I think you can summarize most of yours and other people’s arguments as something like, “the NHL rules, everyone else drools.” It would certainly save time and remove the facade of objectivity.

    Comment by Rajeev 11.06.08 @ 12:01 pm

    Jess, you shouldn’t tell other people to get off their soap boxes for it’s you who spend way too much time there in the first place.
    Second, you are the one who misses the point in both cases the validity of NHL and KHL contracts are outside of the normal working laws & arrangements accepted around the world. These arrangements are approved and acknowledged (as a special arrangement between NHL & NHLPA in NA case) by local laws and upheld by local courts. Because there’s no global agreement on IIHF level NHL contracts are not recognized in Russia and Russian contracts are not recognized here. So you can’t tell me that U.S. court should decide whether Russian player contract status based on KHL & player association working agreement. Secondly, please don’t be too cute here re. “not getting a single dime” for transfers. Previous agreement allowed for $200 K per player in transfer fees which in these sport economic environment is simply a rip-off cause it costs way more to develop a player and even more the future benefits that are being lost. Fairly, these summs should’ve been somewhere in millions at least for these 17 – 20 year olds, but Bettman and NHL don’t want to acknowledge it and this IS the main reason for not working out the new agreement.

    Comment by Kovazub94 11.06.08 @ 1:01 pm

    Koz

    Actually I do know more than you are thinking because it was the rest of the world who foolishly agreed to the formula that led to the payout.

    In fact the most common of mistakes that people make is the belief that it was this 200k pay out.

    It wasn’t as the real facts were that the NHL actually paid into a fund that supposedly averaged out to 200K per player up to 10 transferred players out of a single federation.

    Even worse is that the money was not paid directly to the team but rather his national federation who doled out the money.

    And no I am not being cute either, as the Russian Federation when they pulled out of the PTA gave the NHL the excuse to not pay a single cent for the transfer rights to any Russian player.

    And when the rest of the PTA fell apart the NHL hid behind the NHL/NHLPA CBA and instructed NHL teams that they could not come to any kind of an agreement with any individual team for the transfer of any European player.

    That is why when all the talk was being said by Bardin last spring about working out a deal with the Rangers for Cherepanov that I knew it was bogus. The NHL was never going to allow it to happen.

    I did not miss the point either because you are also incorrect regarding contracts being outside the “normal” working arrangements.

    A contract is still considered a binding agreement between 2 parties no matter where in the world you reside.

    I am not naive or foolish to think that a Russian judge would rule in favor of a Russian contract claim just like North American courts would do the same for North American courts.

    Here is the question I pose to you if both sides are so sure that they are right then why has neither side offered to let the International Court of Sport be the binding arbitrators?

    Answer because neither side is willing to risk having the world know that both sides are equally bad.

    I am not on a soapbox but I am frustrated by those who want to point the finger at one side or another when there is a ton of blame to go around

    I am also frustrated at seeing people rush to judgment thinking that one side or another is biased.

    Unlike most who are rushing to judgment here Koz I have spent my time covering the story.

    Oh and while you are so quick to blame Bettman and CO then please remember that it takes 2 to make an agreement so where is the Russian Hockey Federation during all this?

    Blame the right people please which is all sides

    Comment by Jess 11.08.08 @ 7:11 am

    Jess,
    “I am also frustrated at seeing people rush to judgment thinking that one side or another is biased. ”

    Thats exactly what you are doing. You are so one-sided…so do step off the soap box now cause you are so on it!

    Comment by luckyluck 11.12.08 @ 11:29 am



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