At this point, it seems inevitable that the NHL is heading towards a lockout, leaving NHL players looking for other options. Young players on two-way contracts as well as some veterans have the AHL as an option, while other players are looking overseas at the European leagues. Prominent Russian players, like Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, will be heading over to the KHL to play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk, and the two hope to bring Sidney Crosby along with them.
The KHL would likely be thrilled to add Crosby to their ranks, but don’t want to see hordes of mediocre NHL players invading their league. At least, that’s the impression they’re trying to give and I’m just not buying it. On Wednesday, the league announced an amendment to their regulations, allowing for the temporary signing of limited numbers of NHL players.
The amendment sets certain criteria to ensure, according to KHLVice President of Hockey Operations, Vladimir Shalaev, that only “only top-level foreign players come to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.” TSN labeled the criteria “strict,” but they’re really nothing of the sort.
Prospective players only have to meet one of the following criteria, from the KHL website:
- Has played no fewer than 150 games in the NHL over the last three seasons;
- Has experience of playing in the KHL;
- Represented his country at one of the last two IIHF World Championships, World Junior Championships or the Olympics;
- Is a Stanley Cup winner, a Stanley Cup finalist, or a winner of one of the individual prizes awarded by the National Hockey League at the close of the season.
Steve Mason and Andrew Raycroft automatically qualify, on the basis of their Calder Trophy wins, though it’s a moot point for Raycroft, as this top-level player is currently plying his trade in Italy. It would be charitable to call Mason a top-level player, though he is admittedly a starting goaltender for what is ostensibly an NHL team. He, of course, would qualify under the 150 game rule as well.
That 150 game rule is what makes a mockery of the whole thing. The other criteria are clearly aimed at marketable players who might have some name recognition, but making the lower limit 150 NHL games over the last three seasons ruins that. Does Tim Jackman count as top-level NHL talent? What about George Parros? Andy Sutton? Brad Staubitz? Darcy Hordichuk? Derek Dorsett at least scored double digits in goals last season, so he has that going for him.
That’s not exactly a list brimming with “top-level” players and there are hundreds of other slightly better, yet still thoroughly mediocre, players who also qualify under these “strict” criteria. Sure, some players are ineligible, such as Colton Orr. Raitis Ivanans wouldn’t qualify either, but he already signed in the KHL as a free agent this off-season.
Then there’s the final criteria, that players who have either won the Stanley Cup or made it to the Final are eligible. Let’s just look at the 2012 Final to see where this raises issues.
Cam Janssen may not have played any games for the Devils in the playoffs, but if they had beaten the Kings in the Finals, his name would have been on the Stanley Cup for playing more than 41 regular season games. Same goes for Eric Boulton, who had 0 points in his 51 regular season games for the Devils. Heck, Boulton qualifies on the basis of playing at least 150 games over the last three seasons. Janssen comes 5 games short, but technically is a Stanley Cup finalist.
Ryan Carter qualifies three times over: his name is on the Stanley Cup from the Anaheim Ducks’ 2007 Cup win, despite playing no games during the regular season and just 4 during the playoffs. He also made it to the Finals last season with the Devils and he’s played 172 games over the last three seasons.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup, meaning that all of their players qualify as “top-level foreign players.” Does Kevin Westgarth count? He didn’t play enough games to get his name on the Cup, but he still lifted it. Of course, so did several players who hadn’t played a single game for the Kings last season. Martin Jones lifted it without yet playing a single game in the NHL.
Kyle Clifford did get into three games for the Kings in the playoffs, playing just over 15 minutes in total. He didn’t, however, actually play in the Final, but did get his name on the Stanley Cup on the basis of his 81 regular season games. This top-level talent scored 12 points and even had a couple 2-point games during the regular season. A KHL team would be lucky to plaster his face on a billboard with “Stanley Cup Winner” emblazoned across the top.
Colin Fraser, on the other hand, did actually play in the Stanley Cup Final. He played in every single game, in fact, and even scored a goal in game one, one of his two points in the playoffs. That goes nicely with his 8 points in 67 games during the regular season. Signing him would be a veritable coup for a KHL team.
This is nothing against any of these players, all of whom are, at the very least, decent at hockey. They wouldn’t be in the NHL if they weren’t. But the KHL announcement doesn’t just label them as decent, it labels them as “top-level,” which is disingenuous.
Really, these rules are essentially pointless. The number of NHL players that it actually rules out is a small percentage, with those players unlikely to attract an offer from a KHL team anyway. The only reason for the criteria appears to be for marketing. By publishing the criteria with their announcement that they will allow the temporary signing of locked out NHL players, they soothe the nerves of any KHL fans who might be upset about their local players losing spots to NHLers who won’t be sticking around. They can safely claim that they tried to limit their teams to high-end talent, no matter who those teams eventually sign.
Just imagine a KHL team announcing to their fanbase that they have signed a “top-level” NHL player, then revealing that the player is Darcy Hordichuk. Meanwhile, the KHL can shrug their shoulders and say, “We tried.”