Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why The Declining Russian Presence In The NHL Is Bad

I have written in the past about the declining Russian presence in the NHL which has been brought on by the lack of a player transfer deal with Russia, increasing salaries in the Russian league and reduction in North American salaries under the re-entry waiver system. This is a problem that will be made worse in the future as the player transfer deal with other European countries is likely almost dead.

The number of Russian players in the NHL is in decline and has dropped by about half during the period where no transfer deal has existed. This is a loss of talent to the NHL. This is a situation where the NHL is no longer the league where all the best players in the world come to play. However, not all people all alarmed by this change.

One anonymous commenter writes:

Good riddance to these over-hyped overpaid slackers. The players that have gone back are marginal NHL players at best. The league has been full of these guys that supposedly have all kinds of talent and promise but never seeme to deliver. For every Ovechkin, there are 6 Russian bums that thought they could come here, make the odd great rush, float around, and collect a big paycheck. It started with Krutov and has continued every year. And then they all use Mark Gandler for an agent to demand a ridiculous salary and actually threaten to go to Russia if they don't get their demands met. The GM's are finally smartening up and telling these guys - "don't let the door hit you on your lazy ass on the way out". Look how few were drafted this year. The Russians have been here for 20 years. Where are the stats to back up the hype? Scoring champs - zero, MVP's - zero, Conn Smythe - Zero. Team Leaders - Zero. Grit & Character players (i.e. playoff leaders) - less than zero. The jig is up. Stop the rhetoric about this supposed loss.

This is the opinion that the NHL hopes fans hold. Russian players are being replaced largely with North Americans. These are lesser players who would not be in the NHL except for the current circumstance. That some fans may xenophobically dismiss all Russian players as floaters who do not have what it takes to play in the NHL is good for the league. Of course, all Russian players are not the same. They are not even close to the same. Ottawa would be surprised to learn that Anton Volchenkov is the same as Alexei Yashin. Many Russian players have made big impacts in the NHL, as this commenter even notices citing Alexander Ovechkin. Of course not all Russians can be Alexander Ovechkin. He is a unique talent who is one of the best players in the world.

Let's look at his "complaints". There have been no Russian scoring champs. True, but players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Pavel Bure, Sergei Fedorov and Alexei Zhamnov have all finished in the top three scorers in various seasons and have made huge impacts in scoring races. He incorrectly claims there have been no Russian MVPs when Sergei Fedorov was the 1994 MVP and Pavel Bure and Alexei Yashin have been Hart Trophy nominees. There have been zero Russian Conn Smythe Trophy winners, but Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure, Igor Larionov, Nikolai Khabibulin, Vladimir Konstantinov, Sergei Zubov and Slava Fetisov have all made significant impact on their team's trips to the finals over the years. They have all been significant playoff leaders, while this commenter claims incorrectly that no Russians have. He also claims there have been no team leaders from Russia. Taking team leader to mean captain (which seems like a reasonable interpretation) Pavel Bure, Alexei Yashin and Alexei Zhamnov have all served as captain in the NHL and there is no question that somebody like Igor Larionov would also have made a fine captain. In short, his argument that Russian players have not been good enough to make an impact in the NHL is false.

We could just as easily say that in the last 20 years, when there has been a Russian presence in the NHL, there have been no scoring champions, MVPs, Conn Smythe winners etc. from Saskatchewan (this would actually be true unlike the Russian claim that overlooked Sergei Fedorov), therefore it wouldn't matter if suddenly half the NHL talent from Saskatchewan started to play in another league instead of the NHL.

Russians have made a significant impact in the NHL. A few Russian NHLers will wind up in the Hall of Fame. The league is better off for having their talent. It is losing out when they are no longer coming.

What is most alarming is those Russian players who are leaving are often young prospects such as Igor Grigorenko and Roman Voloshenko. These are players who might be the next NHL stars, but we will never know because they will likely never have NHL careers. The loss of young players is alarming because the loss of potential star careers in near certainty.

The NHL, unless it changes the player transfer situation, is likely to face a significant drop among European players. This will lead to a drop in the average talent level in the league. It will, however, lead to more homegrown North American boys in the league (because somebody will have to take the vacated jobs). If this makes the xenophobic short sighted hockey fans like this commenter happy, I hope he enjoys his weakened NHL. Russians have had a positive impact on the NHL in the last 20 years. It has been a bigger impact than players from Saskatchewan (for example). Their loss hurts the quality of the NHL.

Lower quality of play may have on rather significant side benefit from the NHLs POV.
higher scoring.
The lower the general talent level, the more the truly elite will be able to shine.
Just as the ECHL is higher scoring then the AHL which is in turn higher scoring then the NHL.

Lower quality opens more opportunities for the tuly great players to dominate and also leads to sloppier play from the finge guys that wouldn't otherwise be in the NHL.

The NHL's largely defined entertainment value by the number of goals scored. From their POV this may well offset most of the disadvantages of fewer European players.
Well put... Couple of more players to add to your list (among others)- Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Gonchar, Khabibulin...

Loss of talenty has never been good for anything
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