By Allan Hougaard
The Czech Ice Hockey Association has decided not to sign the IIHF’s player transfer deal with the NHL after the 14 hockey clubs in the Czech Extraliga voted in favor of ending the current deal immediately. This likely means there will be no regulations surrounding the transfer of players between the European teams and the NHL next season.
The existing NHL-IIHF player transfer agreement was originally supposed to last until 2011, but the Euro nations in the agreement demanded it be reopened in December 2007. In order to gain time to negotiate a new, long-term agreement, the IIHF and NHL have been working to arrive at a one-year extension of the existing agreement.
Support for the one-year extension agreement has recently been secured from five of the six main European countries, but the NHL requires that all six European countries support the arrangement. The Czechs were in a position to decide the situation, with the matter placed in the hands of the 14 clubs in the Czech Extraliga.
"Our league has decided not to join the NHL-IIHF-deal,” said Martin Urban, general secretary of the Czech Ice Hockey Association. “A majority of the clubs decided to refuse the NHL agreement.”
Petr BÅ™íza, GM of HC Sparta Praha, who has represented the Czech clubs during the negotiations with the NHL and IIHF, does not hide that the Czechs are not happy with the conditions under the existing transfer agreement.
"The experience from recent years with the agreement show that Czech hockey is bleeding,” says BÅ™íza. “We are losing so many players to North America – especially the very young players who are 17-18 years old."
The player transfer agreement now faces an uncertain future.
"I don’t know, maybe the NHL will sign an agreement with the five other European countries, it’s up to the NHL and IIHF to decide" said Urban.
According to an NHL-spokesman, that scenario is unlikely.
"It’s very doubtful, the NHL will accept a deal with the five European countries," said Frank Brown, the NHL's vice president of media relations.
Brown, however, emphasized the importance of the transfer agreement between the NHL and Europe continuing.
"It is better for everyone involved if an orderly system of transfer is in place,” said Brown. “The system provides cost certainty and promotes a cooperative relationship that can broaden objectives and goals for the game of hockey.”
Without an agreement, NHL teams will have to negotiate on a player-by-player basis.
"Clubs would have to act consistent with what a European player's contractual obligations are,” said Brown. “Over time, however, we believe the best players will still end up in the NHL."
IIHF president Rene Fasel also sees clear advantages in maintaining an agreement with the NHL.
"With an agreement we have a more controlled situation regarding the players, because we have June 15 as the deadline for transfers,” said Fasel. “After June 15, we can be certain that players will not move to the NHL…This is important because all of the good players in Europe actually have a release clause stating that they can leave their European club the moment they are under contract to play in the NHL.”
Fasel is afraid of ending up in the same situation as with the Russian teams, where they pick up players from the European clubs in mid-season. He looks at the example of Russian club Ak Bars Kazan, which picked up Jukka Hentunen and Oleg Petrov from Swiss HC Lugano and Zug in the middle of the season.
"In November-December, the Russian league came and said, 'OK, we want to have Hentunen; we want to have Petrov,' “ said Fasel. “They put the money on the table, and the players leave. This can also happen with the NHL, without an agreement. As soon as a player gets an offer from the NHL he can leave for free. So it’s an advantage to have the NHL transfer agreement.”
According to Peter Gudmundson, managing director of the Swedish Hockey League, the chances for a new NHL transfer agreement any time soon are slim.
"After the Czechs rejected to join a new agreement, I don't think there will be a new NHL transfer agreement,” said Gudmundson. “I don't think there will be a new agreement now. I don't know if there will be an agreement in the future. If there will be an agreement in the future, I think it will take some years.”