Alex Radulov signed a deal to play in Russia this season, despite being under contract with the Predators. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Kontenintal Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev has extended an “open hand” to the NHL, but judging by its reaction to the latest development in the Alexander Radulov affair, Medvedev shouldn’t be surprised if that hand comes back with bite marks in it.
The NHL was decidedly unimpressed with the result of a meeting Saturday involving the KHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation that resulted in the KHL dropping its opposition to the NHL signings of Russian players Nikita Filatov and Viktor Tikhonov and conceding to put the Radulov matter before the courts or an arbitrator.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in the Radulov case, the IIHF, “lacked the courage and conviction to do what’s right,” by not ordering Radulov to fulfill the final year of his contract with the Nashville Predators. Despite still being under contract to the Predators, Radulov signed a three-year deal worth $13 million with Salavat Ufa of the KHL and has already appeared in several games.
“The facts couldn't be more clear,” Daly said in an email to thn.com. “But instead of revealing what (the IIHF’s) investigation actually found – which is that Radulov is under contract to Nashville and should be playing there this season - they pulled the chute and took the easy way out. Very, very disappointing. Its seems that the KHL is making decisions for the IIHF these days.”
Daly is undoubtedly alluding to the fact that Medvedev was recently elected to the executive board of the IIHF in addition to his role as KHL president.
And even though Medvedev said in an interview with thn.com that the KHL would respect the ruling of an independent arbitrator in the Radulov case, Daly said he has no reason to believe that’s the case.
“We're happy to submit the Radulov matter to binding arbitration, but I sincerely doubt we would ever get the agreement of the KHL or Ufa to do so,” Daly said. “They have no case to present, and no justification whatsoever for their lawless actions.”
So much for the thawing of relations between the KHL and NHL, which seemed to be the objective when the KHL met with the IIHF in Zurich on Saturday. The NHL refused to participate in the meeting, but both the KHL and IIHF emerged from the meeting hopeful it would result in better relations between the Russian League and the NHL.
“We have gone with an open hand to the NHL,” Medvedev told thn.com in a telephone interview Saturday. “We are hoping to get a positive reaction from the NHL.”â€¨
After the meeting, that included Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson, the KHL withdrew its disputes to the transfers of five players, including Filatov and Tikhonov, both of whom had been drafted in the first round in June and were expected to play in North America this season.
Filatov was taken sixth overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tikhonov went 28th overall to the Phoenix Coyotes. Both have signed contracts with their teams, but the KHL claimed both players were still under contract to their Russian teams in the KHL and disputed both deals.
The KHL also dropped its opposition to the transfers of Tomas Mojzis (who signed with the Minnesota Wild), Jason Krog (Vancouver Canucks) and Fedor Fedorov (New Jersey Devils).
The decision by the KHL appears to be a stunning reversal in attitude for the Russian league, which until Saturday had taken a hard-line stance with the NHL.
“I must admit I was surprised at the concessions the KHL made, but at some time you have to cut bait and move on,” said one insider familiar with both sides.
As a result, Radulov will no longer be suspended from IIHF competition, which means he will be able to participate in the lucrative, IIHF-sponsored Champions League in Europe until his case is decided.
“We would like to create an environment where mutual respect of contracts is more than just a nice slogan,” Medvedev said. “I believe every objective analyst or supporter of hockey, regardless of nationality or location, should appreciate that we are doing everything possible to have a civilized, transparent and legally solid method of player transfers between the KHL and the NHL. Our friends will never forgive (the KHL and NHL) if we create an environment and all of hockey will suffer. We know people are watching us and waiting for a decision.”â€¨
The KHL, however, continues to dispute the NHL contracts signed by Andrei Lohtionev and Vyacheslav Voinov of the Los Angeles Kings and Andrei Mayorov of the Columbus Blue Jackets.â€¨â€¨From an NHL perspective, this is certainly positive news. The league maintained all along that both Filatov and Tikhonov, both of whom stand a good chance of making their teams, were free of contractual obligations in Russia.
Now the key to resolving the Radulov dispute will depend on whether or not, despite the rhetoric, the two sides can actually agree on binding arbitration.â€¨â€¨Whether or not this leads to a possible transfer agreement between the NHL and the European federations, including the KHL, remains to be seen.
“I really hope it happens,” Medvedev said.
Medvedev, meanwhile, said the KHL is encouraged by its first couple of weeks of operation.â€¨â€¨
“It’s not only my opinion, but that of international experts, that there has been a positive trend in the level of hockey,” Medvedev said. “It is much higher than it was before. The TV audiences are much bigger and I think the public appreciates it.”