Saturday, June 10, 2006

Is it the Dawn of a new Russian invasion?

With the stroke of a pen today, the NHL can finally prepare to welcome a new generation of Russian hockey players to the rosters of its member teams.

After about a year of delays to the terms of the agreement and threats to withhold players that wish to test out their skills in North America, the NHL and the Russian Ice Hockey Federation signed off on an agreement that will make the transfer of players from Russia to North America much easier and a lot less controversial.

Russian league teams had originally refused to sign the same deal that the Czech, Finnish, Swedish and other European federations had with the NHL, where compensation went to the federation as a whole. Instead the Russians had previously held out for a chance to have individual teams receive the compensation packages, creating individual agreements for each player and each team. A process that surely would result in some teams not allowing their players to move on, possibly leaving the NHL with some teams with far too many squandered draft choices left to go unfilled with bodies.

By signing a federation agreement like the others, the process should be much more seamless and allow for quicker player transfers in the future. The first player to benefit from the revised way of doing things will be Evgeni Malkin, who will now be able to join the Pittsburgh Penguins next year with little to no trouble between the NHL and his Russian team.

Vladislav Tretiak, who has recently taken on new duties with the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, has been credited with smoothing over the dispute between the NHL and his Russian bosses. His experience with NHL teams and his knowledge of the NHL system was no doubt of great value to the Russian Federation which fears a drain of talent without a proper compensation package coming back their way.

It will be interesting to watch over the next few years, as many more Russian players make the journey across the ocean to test out their talents against not only the North American hockey player, but some of his pioneering countrymen who have already established themselves in the NHL.

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