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Rambler's Top100

19 декабря 2007 года. 
Hockey: proposed european pro league - don't be on new league succeeding.// The Globe and Mail


The reasons why a new professional hockey league in Europe, centred mostly in Russia and the former Soviet republics, wouldn't pose a genuine threat to the NHL are many and varied.

There is the limited infrastructure: the current Russian building boom features buildings that seat in the range of 8,000 to 10,000 spectators.

There are the minimal gate receipts: admission price is pennies on the dollar compared with that in the NHL.

There is opposition from national federations.

There is the desire of European hockey fans to see local rivals.

But mostly, there has been a clear indication, even from the best of the Russian-born NHL players, that they want to play in North America.

Consider the evidence. Right now, there are four Russians making a real impact in the NHL - the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin, the Atlanta Thrashers' Ilya Kovalchuk and the Detroit Red Wings' Pavel Datsyuk. Each is capable of making a highlight-reel play. On Monday, Datsyuk and Ovechkin, playing against each other for only the second time in their professional lives, put on quite a show, with Datsyuk getting the advantage after he scored the winner in a shootout.

Last week, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock called Datsyuk the best player in the league, and even if he isn't, he's right up there. After a slow start, Kovalchuk is leading the league in goal scoring. Malkin is part of the Penguins' dynamic 1-2 punch, playing alongside Sidney Crosby.

Ovechkin is usually the only reason to watch the Capitals play most nights.

In theory, those four would be the prime candidates for Alexander Medvedev, the well-heeled Russian oil billionaire, to recruit for his proposed European Super League, which, by the way, has been in the talking stages for years and received little real attention.

If the likes of Ovechkin and Malkin decided to pack their bags and go home, their departures could hurt the NHL in a meaningful way. With all due respect to the handful of Russian players who went back this year, no one is staying away from NHL games just because they can't watch Alexander Svitov, or Alexei Kaigorodov or, heaven forbid, Alexei Yashin, any more.

But remember this: Kovalchuk and Datsyuk both used the threat of playing in Russia after the NHL lockout to help in their contract negotiations with the Thrashers and Red Wings, respectively. Both were poised to make reasonably big dollars, about $4-million each, which, tax-free, might be the equivalent of what they earn in the NHL.

Yet in the end, despite the attraction of playing at home, for dollars that were roughly equivalent, they opted to play in the NHL. And last spring, Datsyuk signed a long-term extension to stay with the Red Wings for the rest of his career.

In Malkin's case, he was practically forced to flee from Russia, Cold War style, after his club team, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, tried to get him to sign a contract extension under duress. Financially, Magnitogorsk was in a position to retain Malkin, a home-grown talent, and desperately wanted to do so in the year they were opening an 8,000-seat arena.

Even that set of circumstances - the prospect of playing at home, for big money, an owner playing the loyalty card - wasn't enough to keep Malkin at home. He wanted to test himself at the NHL level and his club went to court in the United States to get him to come back, a tactic that Ovechkin's former employer, Moscow Dynamo, tried the year before, also without success.

In the case of all four players, there were compelling reasons, personal and financial, to play in Russia, but instead, they opted for the NHL alternative.

It may well be that by 2014, in the run-up to the Olympics, (and especially if the NHL decides to bypass the Olympics in Russia) that the oligarchs will make huge financial offers to the best Russian players to get them to stay home and play in the Olympics, if only for that single season. Naturally, there will always be the Russian players, such as former San Jose Sharks forward Alexander Korolyuk, who simply prefer to play at home, for family and lifestyle reasons.

But the notion of a reverse migration, or a migration that also includes front-line NHL players of Canadian or U.S. extraction, seems positively ludicrous.

A handful - from Vincent Lecavalier to Dany Heatley to Brad Richards - tried out Russia during the lockout. Unless there's another work stoppage in the NHL, none will be going back to chase a few extra petro dollars, even a lot of extra petro dollars.

For anyone else who might be tempted, all they would need to do is canvass their peers who've been there, done that and got the T-shirt. Once they hear what they say about the experience, they will soon think twice about Russia as an option - no matter what the money may be.

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