Jiri Hudler left the Red Wings for the Kontinental League this season. (KHL Photo Services)
The fact Kontinental League president Alexander Medvedev requested a meeting Wednesday night with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Washington might lead a person to believe the two sides will finally be able to begin to iron out their differences and co-exist.
But don’t count deputy commissioner Bill Daly among those people.
“I think it will be more of the same in terms of contracts and respecting contracts,” Daly said. “They’ve talked to us about their vision of how the two leagues could co-exist and it doesn’t match our vision. As long as we have different visions, then I don’t see any prospect for any kind of pact coming out of that. There’s no optimism on my part of anything being productive coming out of this meeting.”
Well there you have it. You could certainly accuse the NHL of being cynical, but they have good reason to be. When it comes to signing players from each other’s leagues, the NHL believes the KHL is poaching players who have valid contracts, but the KHL argues the NHL is doing exactly the same thing.
There is currently no transfer agreement between the two leagues and, in part because NHL teams are wary of signing Russian players, there are currently only 24 of them on NHL rosters. Fortunately for the NHL, they’re 24 of the best Russians and they don’t seem to have any desire to bolt the NHL for the KHL.
But some people wonder whether there will be a KHL to which to bolt much longer. If you think the NHL’s finances are a mess because of the economic downturn, they seem to be positively rosy compared to the KHL. There are constantly reports of players not being paid and the KHL has its own Phoenix Coyotes situation with Lada Togliatti, which is apparently bankrupt and had to receive $600,000 from the league to cover salaries.
In order to cut costs, the KHL also reportedly arbitrarily took cost-cutting measures that were not opposed by what many see as a toothless players’ association in the KHL. (As an example, the KHL Players’ Association president Andrei Kovalenko plays for Medvedev’s traveling Gazprom team.)
If a player is released by a team and has his contract bought out, teams are now required to pay only 25 percent of the player’s remaining salary, down from 66 percent.
The league also lowered the salary cap this season and changed its contractual obligations to the players. Now, if a player’s contract is up and the team makes him a qualifying offer – which was also lowered – it ties the player contractually to the team even though he may not want to accept the offer.
In fact, some people are wondering just how long Medvedev will continue to run the KHL. The two leagues were supposed to meet at the Victoria Cup in September, but Medvedev informed the NHL a couple of days before the meeting that he had a conflict and wouldn’t be able to attend. The only problem was he decided not to send anyone in his place who could have had some dialogue with the NHL.
So even though Medvedev and Bettman meeting is better than them not meeting, it’s probably best not to get your hopes up for any kind of meaningful progress.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Wednesdays and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
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