Friday, November 17, 2006

Talented Players Go To Europe (Thanks CBA)

It is best for the fan if there is one league where all of the most talented players in the world are plying their trade. The NHL CBA is slowly eroding this situation. So far there are no MVP candidates who are not playing because the owners have chosen a restrictive system that alienates some good players, but there are players who are good enough to be core players on most teams who are missing. There are talented players such as Jason Allison, Brian Leetch and Oleg Kvasha sitting on the sidelines because teams do not have enough salary cap room to offer them the monex they are worth. There is another group of players who chose to play in Europe because they may have better financial prospects starring on a European team then they would on the lower rungs of the NHL salary structure (these tend to be young potential laden players) or players who are fed up with waiting for their deal who return to their home country.

George Malik of Kukla's Korner provides a good list of potential laden NHLers in Europe this year: Sean Bergenheim of the New York Islanders, Pavol Vorobiev of the Chicago Blackhawks, Mika Noronen of the Vancouver Canucks,Timofei Shishkanov of the St Louis Blues, Denis Grebeshkov of the New York Islanders, Niklas Nordgren of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Evgeni Artyukin of the Tampa Bay Lightning. All of these players are young NHL players who have the potential to develop into stars. Like most young players, some of them will not mature, but one or two might have become outstanding players. These players are not likely to be play in the NHL this season. In fact, if they are not signed by December 1st, the CBA says they cannot sign all season. Most (if not all) have probably realized that they will be better paid in Europe than in the NHL this season. A salary cap provides only so much money to sign an entire team. If a few stars get big contracts, then the rest of the players on the team must be signed cheaply. That leaves young players who may have lots of potential, but not much track record yet, stuck in smaller contracts. It is a good economic move for major European teams to offer these guys more than they could get in the NHL. They will likely be stars in Europe and increase the values of their European teams and leagues. The NHL loses these players since they cannot offer enough money to keep them.

This group of players is not the only one that the NHL has lost to Europe. There are others who left in 2005 such as Roman Cechmanek and Artem Chubarov who may never be back. The top goal scorer in the Swedish league this year is Pavel Brendl. Aleksey Morozov lead the Russian league in scoring last year. In the previous CBA, likely all these guys would be in the NHL still.

In the old days, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were some very good players in Communist Eastern Europe (such as Valeri Kharlamov) who were not in the NHL, but the NHL benefitted greatly with the influx of European players in the 1990's. Sure a few players with NHL talent spent large portions of their careers in Europe (such as Jiri Dopita and Ville Peltonen) but it was not on the scale that we are seeing in the first couple years of the new CBA.

Any artificial reduction on how much money a player can earn will lead to the player looking for other possible ways to make money. Some are finding it in Europe. The stronger the European leagues become with these players the better they become able to take on the NHL to bid for top talent. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation is already fighting with the NHL and would love to steal a top talent from the NHL. One of these days, I bet it happens, unless our current path changes quickly.

The fan is the loser here. This is probably a more serious loss of talented players from the NHL. This is probably a larger loss of talented players from the viewing pleasure of NHL fans. The loss of talented young players to Europe allows the possibility of future stars playing in the European leagues and not the NHL that spurned them. It allows the European leagues a chance to be strengthened so they can further compete with the NHL. The days where the NHL was the unquestioned best league in the world will come to an end and this CBA will be one of the main reasons because it pushed some players to other leagues in Europe.

The reason why those players are playing in Europe has nothing to do with the CBA. All of those European players are borderline NHLers at best and the reason why those choose to play in Europe is because they can get a guaranteed 300K rather than playing for the $40-50K they'd make playing in the AHL.
Many of those players are NHL calibre. Many played in the NHL last year. Are you seriously suggesting somebody like Mikka Nononen or Aleksey Morozov are AHL players?

Also, you significantly underestimate AHL contracts if you think these guys would get $40k in the AHL.

Even in a worst case if these guys would spend time in the AHL (and most wouldnt), they are better players than the guy who gets called up in their place. So the NHL gets weaker players because of the CBA pushing people to Europe.
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