Thursday, November 30, 2006

Enver Lisin Returns To Russia

The NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation are fighting. The problem is that there is no player transfer deal between these leagues. The Russians want more significant transfer fees when the NHL signs their talent. Right now, the NHL pays a few hundred thousand dollars per player when theny sign a player under contract in a European league that is covered by a transfer deal.

As a result, the NHL had to go through some extraordinary lengths to sign Russian talent this summer. Evgeni Malkin had to defect to get to the NHL and Alexei Mikhnov and Andrei Taratukhin exploited a questionable legal loophole to get to the NHL. Other players came slightly more peacefully. Alexei Kaigorodov's release was negotiated, but it was under the condition that if he got sent to the minors he could return to Russia. Despite this, the Ottawa Senators suspended Kaigorodov when he returned to Russia after being sent to the minors.

Another player Evenr Lisin left Russia on more friendly terms. He initiated and paid for his transfer from Ak Bars Kazan so he could play with the Phoenix Coyotes. It was included in his contract that he could return to Russia if he was sent to the minors.

Lisin has not looked ready for the NHL. Lisin has an NHL worst +/- at -18. He put up two points in 17 games. So Phoenix sent him to the minors and he returned to Russia instead. Phoenix turned around and suspended him for acting on a clause negotiated into his contract.

The problem is that Russia is making legal challenges to try to force the NHL to pay transfer fees. One NHL strategy appears to be to argue that we have some Russian players (Malkin, Mikhnov, Taratukhin) and Russia has some NHL players (Kaigorodov, Lisin) so maybe some judge or arbitrator will call it a draw and say that nobody owes anyone anything. Of course that is entirely false. Russia has players that the NHL picked over and decided they didn't really want. The NHL has the best of the bunch in Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is a unique talent and the early Calder trophy favorite. If Ottawa got Kaigorodov back and Phoenix got Lisin back, they wouldn't have any spot for them in the short term. They would merely place them in the minors.

The NHL gets the best of the disputed talent. The Russians get players the NHL couldn't use. Thats hardly even.

The best solution is for the NHL to agree to pay reasonable transfer fees to the Russians, but instead they have chose to go to war. This war does not benefit hockey fans who want to see the best talent in one league. It sets up a barrier to prevent top Russian talent from the NHL.

Here is the TSN story on Lisin's suspension.

Nice work. We linked your post on Lisin to Net Crashers.
I think that you have this exactly backwards.

First, as a person who has to work for a living, I appreciate the fact that I can sell myself to the highest bidder for my services. That Malkin is in the NHL is not because he was stripped from a Russian club (indeed his entire contract signing with the Russian club reeks of both intimidation and crass opportunism), as much as Malkin is good enough to play in the best league in the world, has a team that wants and needs him and is willing to pay for his services.

Are the Russian teams owed nothing? No, but when every single member of the IIHF backs the deal and its only the Russian clubs that refuse, shouldn't we consider that the reason they did isn't because they are seeking to improve the quality of their own players, but rather a cash grab, backed by threats of legal action.

This isn't a case of the big bad NHL bulldozing a weak opponent and robbing them blind. It's a kleptocratic ploy to extort higher fees for Russian players.

The good news? The Russians are getting exactly nowhere with the legal proceedings and aren't likely to succeed in the near future. In a few months the process will work itself out and Russia will tuck tail between its legs and sign on to the IIHF agreement - as they should.

I'd say you've let your taste for NHL bashing (which is oft warranted) get the better of you on this one.
The question is what is fair and reasonable for the NHL to pay to other leagues who develop talent for them? The NHL grabs the best players in the other leagues and leaves little in return.

Under the IIHF deal that exists with other countries, Malkin would have had a $300,000 transfer fee. In soccer, Russia satr Andriy Sevchenko signed in Italy and a roughly $20 million transfer fee was negotiated. Transfer fees of that size are commonplace. In baseball, the Boston Red Sox paid $51 million to get to talk to Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. These numbers are all huge, but which one seems to least belong? The hockey number is low by at least an order of magnitude.

The NHL has succeeded in producing a good product in the last few years in part because of a pipeline of talent that others produce for them in Europe and they have not had to pay full price for it. The other IIHF nations have been bullied into accepting the deal, because it was presented as take it or leave it. If you dont accept the pittance we give you for your best young players we can take then for free. Russia is the first to truly fight that (though the Czechs almost joined them). The IIHF is making thinly veiled attempted to try to change things like this report.

If the NHL cannot keep the people who produce large portions of their talent - and in principle could become direct competitors happy, they are in for a tough time. They wont get the players they are used to. They will see players they can use return to the European leagues. It will weaken the calibre of the NHL.

Yes, Russia is using legal attacks (which often have little chance of success) to try to get larger transfer fees. They are doing it because they have been forced into a corner with little other option. They are doing it because hockey transfer fees are unreasonably low when compared to other sports.
Sorry the link to the IIHF report didn't work in the last comment. Try this one.
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