Evgeni Nabokov won 293 games with San Jose over 10 seasons. (Getty Images)
By Jamie Ross
Will they stay or will they go?
That question has been asked numerous times every summer since the Kontinental League formed in 2008 and began luring players away from the NHL with lucrative contract offers.
What began with the departures of a select few big names has become an entirely new element to the NHL off-season and free agency period, giving players one more option when considering their hockey futures.
Several players this off-season decided to pack their bags for Russia, which led us to ponder – is the KHL a haven for NHL castoffs or a viable alternative to the North American big league?
With that, we list the 10 biggest names to cross the pond to Russia from the NHL.
Yashin left the NHL for the Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League (now of the KHL) after the New York Islanders bought out his contract for a little more than $17.5 million in June of 2007. He has spent the past three seasons in Russia, most recently with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, where he posted 64 points in 56 games. He’s currently without a team for the upcoming season and there was talk the 1992 first-rounder was interested in a return to the NHL. He’ll turn 37 in November.
After appearing in only 10 games for the Dallas Stars in 2008-09, Zubov returned to his native Russia as a member of SKA St. Petersburg after 16 NHL seasons. The 40-year-old defenseman proved there’s still spring in his step as he put up 42 points in 53 games. The highest scoring Russian-born defenseman in NHL history is signed with St. Petersburg through 2010-11.
It was unlikely the aging future Hall of Fame forward would be able to pull the $4 million a season he’d been earning with the Capitals in the NHL, so it came as little surprise when Fedorov, 40, signed with Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2009. The 1994 Hart Trophy winner scored 29 points in 50 games last year.
The 35-year-old Demitra signed a one-year deal with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this off-season after playing two underwhelming seasons with the Vancouver Canucks. The Slovakian missed 47 games due to shoulder surgery in the first half of 2009-10, but enjoyed a resurgence at the Olympics, where he led all scorers with 10 points in seven games.
The unrestricted free agent couldn’t find the money he was looking for in the NHL, so he signed a two-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg in July. The 2002 Kings first-rounder missed time last season after sustaining a torn MCL and an undisclosed lower-body injury. The 26-year-old had his best season in 2008-09 with the Oilers, when he put up 39 points and was a plus-12 in 72 games.
Emery’s turbulent time in Ottawa ended in a contract buyout after 2007-08. The embattled goaltender then shopped his services to Russia where he signed a one-year deal worth $2 million with Atlant Mytishchi. Emery enjoyed considerable success in the KHL, posting a 24-8 record with a 2.12 GAA. He returned to the NHL last season after signing a one-year deal with the Flyers, but abdominal and groin injuries limited him to just 29 games.
Hudler left Motown for Moscow after the now-defunct Dynamo offered up big money ($10 million over two seasons). With the Dynamo now gone, the skilled winger is returning to Detroit for 2010-11 and will earn $2.875 million a season for two years – the same contract he was awarded through arbitration before he bolted for Russia.
The high-flying Radulov jumped ship for the KHL’s Ufa Salavat Yulayev in 2008 with one year remaining on his entry level contract with the Nashville Predators. Radulov led Salavat to a first place finish in the regular season in 2009-10, notching 63 points in 54 games and carried that momentum into the playoffs, where he led all scorers with 19 points in 16 games. If he ever returns to the NHL, Radulov will have to complete his entry level deal with Nashville at $980,000 a season.
Here’s another aging future Hall of Famer who left the NHL for a more lucrative deal in Russia. Jagr became a free agent at the end of 2007-08 when his contract with the New York Rangers wasn’t renewed and shortly after signed on with Avangard Omsk for $10 million over two seasons. Speculation Jagr would return to North America in 2010 was quashed when the 38-year-old, who has 1,599 career NHL points, signed a one-year extension with the same team.
The most notable departure to the KHL this off-season, Nabokov became an unrestricted free agent when his team of 10 seasons, the San Jose Sharks, didn’t offer him a new contract. The 35-year-old goaltender, who earned $6 million with the Sharks last season, signed a four-year deal with St. Petersburg worth a reported $24 million.
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