Would you enter a knife fight, carrying nothing but a cease and desist order from your lawyers? Challenge someone to a duel of pistols at dawn, choosing to instead show up without weaponry, but rather with righteous indignation, moral outrage, and the sense that you are in the right? Try and take on an opponent who knows not of losing, rather, winning, even if it means employing any means necessary? That’s what the NHL has decided to do in its most recent dust-up with the KHL, the start-up Russian hockey league, that has the potential to threaten the NHL’s claim to hockey supremacy.
Since the announcement that the KHL is coming to fruition, as a replacement to the Russian Superleague, trickles of transactions have come over the wire outlining former NHL players who are packing their bags and have decided to take a taste of Borscht and hockey, Russian style. For the most part, the signings have been inconsequential, players who have worn out their welcome in North America (good luck pulling that B.S. with Atlant Mytishchi, Ray Emery), players on the downside of their career (Jaromir Jagr), or players I didn’t know still played (Jozef Stumpel). The NHL shrugged, and went about their way, all the time trying to finalize a transfer agreement with the Russian hockey authorities. It took until the case of Alexander Radulov, formerly (maybe) of the Nashville Predators, and soon to be playing for Ufa of the KHL (probably), for the NHL to pay attention and recognize the shot across the bow that is the KHL.
Radulov, a Russian under contract with the Predators, said nyet nyet to hockey in Nashville, and returned home to Russia to play in the new KHL. Doing so he left the Predators and the NHL holding nothing but the upper hand in a yet to be contested battle for righteous indignation. That and a Toonie (two dollars for our non-Canadian friends) will get you a coffee and donut at Tim’s. The NHL cried foul, the Russians yawned, and at this point the NHL should have realized they had entered into the aforementioned knife fight.
It’s with that in mind, I couldn’t do anything but snicker at this quote by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly when he said, “the KHL shouldn’t need a ‘moratorium’ to adhere to a policy of respecting legal and binding contractual commitments.”
The irony of that comment is delicious. Let me give you a few names as to why: Evgeni Malkin, Alexander Mogilny, Nikita Filatov, Tomas Mojzis. All were under contract to Russian teams. All broke their contracts to come to the NHL. Some, like Mogilny were smuggled in a manner reminiscent of the Baltimore Colts leaving for Indianapolis in their Mayflower moving trucks in the middle of the night.
Now, the point of this article, isn’t to rehash the legalities and intricacies behind contractual statuses of different hockey players, rather it is to point out that the NHL is in way over their head, as evidenced by the naiveté of Bill Daly’s comments. The NHL needs to realize that the Russians aren’t interested in playing fair. They aren’t interested in negotiating out-clauses, and providing compensation, and following generally accepted business practices. They want to build the best hockey league in the world, and they aren’t going to let a signature on a piece of paper stop them. They will gladly let the NHL spend and litigate, if in the time before a court ordered resolution, it results in the KHL establishing itself as an equal or at the very least comparative to the NHL. They will bring a machete to the knife fight if that’s what it takes for them to be successful. They will carry multiple pistols. By any means necessary. May the best league win.
For Illegal Curve, I’m Drew Mindell.