Vladimir Tarasenko (Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI via Getty Images)
The iconic Hall of Fame defenseman believes the talent drain in Russia has become too great and that legislation is needed. As a senator in the Federal Assembly now, Fetisov actually has the platform to turn his words into actions. But will it mean anything?
Relations between Russia and North America are a little frosty right now. Discipline is expected from the IIHF after the Russians took off during the Canadian national anthem at the World Championship, while the newest issue of Harper's magazine reveals that 81 percent of Russians today have a negative view of the United States, compared with just 25 percent in 2013.
And now a hockey legend has waded into the fray.
Slava Fetisov is a double Hall of Famer (he's in the IIHF one, too) and two-time Stanley Cup winner who came over to the NHL at 31, following an incredibly distinguished career in the Soviet Union. Now an influential senator in Russia's Federal Assembly, Fetisov is fed up with Russian talent heading overseas – he wants players to stay home until they are 28.
Fetisov is quoted in a story from Rsport.ru (brought to light by hockey reporter Slava Malamud) and he seems pretty fired up about it. Recent Chicago Blackhawks signing Artem Panarin (23) was specifically mentioned by Fetisov, who claims that he has tried to get the KHL to impose such a rule in the past, but with little traction.
The irony in the situation is that Fetisov was part of a trailblazing group of players who left the Soviet Union for the NHL during the Cold War, when such a thing had previously not been allowed. Even then, players such as Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov were past the age of 28 when they came over here. Only defectors such as Alex Mogilny – who was 20 when he joined the Buffalo Sabres – could start their careers in the NHL earlier and that was not an easy path.
Is Fetisov being protectionist? Sure. Though his allegiances are with the KHL and that league would be much more imposing if stars such as Vladimir Tarasenko (23) or Sergei Bobrovsky (26) still played back home. The KHL has benefitted from North American imports itself: Kevin Dallman was an early star for the league, while four of the top five scoring defensemen this past season hailed from North America, though I'm sure Fetisov would point out that the KHL wouldn't need such players if the NHL had not taken away the best Russians in the first place.
And make no mistake: With the exception of Ilya Kovalchuk and maybe one or two other players, all the best Russians are over here – Canada's 6-1 drubbing of a half-KHL squad at the worlds made that pretty clear, as did Russia's poor Olympic showing on home ice in Sochi, which included KHLers amongst the Ovechkins and Malkins.
But the NHL has no moral obligation to prop up the competition. It's not like the KHL is some beacon of goodness – especially when you read reports that players from Sochi's franchise had to get lawyered up in an attempt to receive wages they had allegedly been denied for months.
Now the question is whether the KHL and Russian government will actually do anything about Fetisov's proposal. Protectionism has already been imposed on these shores, when the CHL decided that no import goalies (i.e. Europeans) would be allowed in major junior anymore.
So far, no positive benefits have been seen from the rule and the only byproduct is that top Euro tenders are now heading to the United States League: Slovakia's Adam Huska suited up for Green Bay this year, while Daniel Vladar of the Czech Republic is heading to the Chicago Steel for the 2015-16 campaign. Both are up for the 2015 draft and Vladar in particular will be one to watch.
In a globalized world, it's hard to see Fetisov's gambit paying off. It will only alienate players who want to play in the best league in the world and force them to take back channels to do so, much like Mogilny and Malkin (who had a contract dispute back home before he left covertly for Pittsburgh) did.
As it is now, many Russian players stick around until their early 20s – no different than kids from Sweden or Finland. Sure, you'll get CHLers like Ivan Provorov or Nikita Korostelev, both of whom left before they were even eligible to play major junior, but they are balanced out by players such as Evgeny Kuznetsov, who didn't leave until he was 21, despite being a first-rounder who could have cracked the Washington Capitals early.
Kuznetsov believed it was right for him to stay that extra season or two, as did Tarasenko, who joined the St. Louis Blues two full seasons after he was drafted, despite his bonkers skill set. Is it realistic to expect such players to spend their prime years in an inferior league?
Fetisov has been a warrior his entire life, but is this a fight he can win? Hard to see a clear victory at this point.