Thursday, September 08, 2005

NHL's Latest Attempted Power Play with the Russians

The NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) have a deal that outlines their arrangement to co-exist. It outlines how much money the NHL will play to international leagues if it signs their players. It is an agreement that international leagues will honour NHL contracts and not sign players who are already under NHL contract. It formally outlines the agreement between countries to participate in IIHF sponsored international tournaments such as the World Championships and the Olympics.

However, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation chose to not sign the current deal. At first, the NHL threatened that they might not be able to play in the Olympics. This was quickly seen as an empty threat since the NHL was already selling season tickets for a season that had an Olympic break. The Czech Hockey Federation was also threatening to not sign the deal, but the Czechs eventually signed. The next NHL plan was to suggest that unless the Russians sign the deal they should not be allowed to participate in the Olympics. This also seems like a ridiculous claim because countries had participated in the Olympics long before there was any NHL/IIHF deal. Often smaller countries such as Belarus or Kazakhstan have participated in the Olympics even though they have not signed the deal - since they are not seen as important enough international hockey countries to have bothered to sign. Finally, its an empty threat because the IIHF would have the final say on such a move and not the NHL.

The IIHF has now spoken. Rene Fassel their president says

We have to bring the best athletes to the Games. Why punish good Russian NHL players by not allowing them to play in the Olympics? That would be a stupid decision.

That kills that attempt by the NHL to strongarm the Russians. They managed to strongarm the NHLPA with similar tactics, but the NHLPA is bitterly divided. Those strongarm tactics will not work with the more united Russian Ice Hockey Federation.

Without an NHL/IIHF deal, player transfers between the Russian league and the NHL will be more complicated. Russian teams want to negotiate individually with NHL teams for every player that leaves them. The IIHF deal leaves compensation as a formula based on the draft position of the player in question. The NHL has claimed that they might be able to sign Russian players and pay no transfer fee. Likely, this would be a question that would have to be answered by lawyers, but there would most likely be some compensation (and it might be much higher than the IIHF amounts). The Russians may also be able to sign players under NHL contract, but again it would open up a complicated legal process where the exact fallout is unclear. This is a story that may have major effects in the future of the NHL and international hockey.

TSN's story on this is here.

The Russian teams are trying to put the best possible team on the ice, just like every other pro team. Meanwhile, they've been having to watch the NHL pluck their best players from their rosters, for not much more than a few hundred thousand dollars at most in return. Not only do the Russian teams end up losing their best talent, they get a relatively small amount of money back to try and replace that talent with. I can't blame the Russians for finally saying "no" to the way this is set-up, and your post is one of the few that I've seen that doesn't rip into the Russian clubs for taking this stand.
My goodness! A clever story that looks at the impact first, then decides to take sides! I'm adding it to my favorites. You might also want to mention that the Penguins placed Malkin's playing with Russian Clubs in jeopardy with their bully-boy tactics. If Malkin is to play for Russian Clubs in the future, he may end up with the fee that the Pens owned to his old club. As per the Olympics, that's just plain ridiculous: "Give us money or don't go to Olympics". Although I think it will be funny when the only non-working showers in Sochi belong to the NHL money-grubbers.
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