Thursday, June 26, 2008

Continental league still keeping an eye out for NHL talent

"The NHL, for decades, has ignored our contracts. Why should we respect them without any agreement? There is no legal basis for respect." -- Continental league founder, Alexander Medvedev outlining his thoughts on any protocol between his new league and the NHL.

They've been rebuffed by the biggest name so far, but the Russian based Continental league still is keeping its options open when it comes to NHL talent.

While the NHL continues to try to work out an agreement to leave contract players alone, nothing has been nailed down yet and that is leaving a window of opportunity for the new league to seek out the rosters of the NHL teams and see what might be up for grabs in Mr. Bettman's store.

IIHF president Rene Fasel jumped into the fray last week with a ruling that leagues are required to honor player contracts even in the absence of a transfer agreement, however, his announcement and the threat of disciplinary action hasn't seemed to have had much impact with Alexander Medvedev, the Russian billionaire who is bankrolling the start up costs of the league.

Medvedev, who seems quite sure of his position and the ability to bring his fellow Continental hockey league owners along for the ride, is sounding particularly challenging to the NHL, who for the most part aren't used to not getting their way.

How the situation evolves over the summer could provide a fairly interesting snapshot of what the NHL is going to look like in the next few years, as European players possibly return home and North American ones examine a new world for their talents, one eager to pay top dollar it seems to put a team together.

The Globe and Mail featured a story on Tuesday that examined Medvedev's bluster and how it may shake out in North American hockey circles.

Russian league still open to signing NHL players
Globe and Mail Update
June 24, 2008 at 4:25 PM EDT

The NHL has opened negotiations with a new Russian-based professional hockey league to establish a temporary agreement to prevent either league from signing players under contract.
But until such a deal is reached, Continental Hockey League founder Alexander Medvedev has no problem with his teams using lucrative offers in an attempt to poach NHL stars, such as Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.

"I believe the clubs have a free hand to do whatever they want," Medvedev told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday. "Legally, they have the full right to do so, because we have suffered in the past. We can't say, 'Look boys, it's morally not good without having an agreement. Don't do it."'

Medvedev, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation council, described the NHL proposal he received on Tuesday as a start and will consider accepting it. However, it fell well short of the deal he said he's ultimately seeking from the NHL: a long-term transfer agreement, which would establish terms of compensation for teams that lose players to another league.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly described the submitted proposal as a draft of a short-term understanding in which both leagues would agree to honor the contracts of their respective players. Daly added the NHL did agree with Medvedev to consider discussing a more detailed player transfer agreement, while noting such negotiations would depend upon the involvement of the NHL Players' Association.

Daly, however, contradicted Medvedev's view in regards to CHL teams currently being free to sign NHL players under contract. Daly said, "Mr. Medvedev, on behalf of the KHL, has already agreed to respect the valid and binding contractual obligations of players to NHL clubs."

The CHL, which goes by "KHL" in Russia, created a stir last week when it was revealed that several Russian teams intended to offer Malkin a multiyear contract worth at least $12.5 million per season. Malkin has one year left on his contract with the Penguins.

Malkin's agent, J.P. Barry, confirmed his client received a lucrative "back-channel" offer to play in Russia, but stressed it was a deal Malkin had no intention of accepting.

IIHF president RenDe Fasel has ruled leagues are required to honor player contracts even in the absence of a transfer agreement. He also threatened disciplinary action — including disqualification from Olympic play — against players switching leagues while under contract. The IIHF, however, has no disciplinary authority over teams and their leagues.

The NHL no longer pays a $200,000 transfer fee for signing a European free agent after its agreement with the IIHF expired earlier this month. Russia had pulled out of that system three years ago.

Medvedev called the $200,000 in compensation as too little, and he wants a new deal that would also prevent players under 21 from switching leagues.

He said he's frustrated that numerous European prospects spend time developing in the NHL's minor leagues when they could be playing professionally in their respective native countries.
Medvedev argued the NHL has not respected contracts players have signed in Russia, including Malkin.

Led by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russian clubs sued in October 2006, claiming that the NHL broke U.S. antitrust law and improperly interfered in their business affairs by signing away players, including Malkin, who were still under contract. Malkin was cleared to play for the Penguins only after a U.S. federal judge denied the Russians' claim.

"The NHL, for decades, has ignored our contracts. Why should we respect them without any agreement? There is no legal basis for respect," Medvedev said, noting his league will comply when a deal is reached.

Medvedev is deputy chairman of Gazprom, the world's largest natural gas refiner and distributor. He founded the CHL earlier this year as a successor to the former Russian Super League. The CHL will feature 24 teams and is scheduled to begin play in September.

Medvedev said his league has already signed three NHL players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer: forward Chris Simon, defenseman Andrei Zyuzin and goaltender John Grahame.

Medvedev said CHL teams will have a maximum 25-player rosters, with five slots set aside for non-Russian players. Non-Russian goaltenders will count for two slots

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