And so it was late last week that another Eastern European-born player said of the NHL lockout, “Screw it we’ll all just stay in the KHL anyway and make a bunch of money tax free and no one will call us lazy Russians even though we’re from Belarus or whatever and also sure run a much higher risk of injury and poor treatment but at least we won’t have to deal with Gary Bettman any more right?” Or something to that effect, anyway.

This time it was Sergei Kostitsyn who uttered these things, echoing the semi-vague threats of Ilya Bryzgalov and Alex Ovechkin before him, and perhaps even speaking for other, as-yet-unrevealed European-born NHLers currently playing in the KHL. And while his assertion that Columbus is relatively gloomier than Siberia may well be true — I’ve been to the former, but not the latter, but did find it to be more than a little drab — the actual threat he’s now espousing as well rings hollow for two reasons.

First, he, like Bryzgalov and Ovechkin, would be leaving money on the table and also violating the admittedly-shaky transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL. Kostitsyn (who, yes I know, is Belarusian) is due another $6 million over the next two seasons from Nashville (well, less whatever he loses to this lockout), Bryzgalov would be leaving $41 million, and Ovechkin skipping out on $88 million. They would be foolish to do so, obviously.

Second, and far more importantly, if no one in North America ever saw Sergei Kostitsyn, or indeed, the vast, vast majority of Russian and other Eastern European players play hockey on their favorite NHL teams ever again, the net result would be a collective shrug.

Think about it: All this hootin’ and hollerin’ about how “the NHL doesn’t treat us fairly so we’d rather stay here,” isn’t exactly coming from the most captivating Eastern European talents. Ovechkin, I acknowledge, is a voice that must be listened to on some level because of who he is — or rather, who he seems to have been in the past and may not be any more — but what do you think the reaction is if Bryzgalov, for example, tells the Flyers thanks for the $10 million last season, but he’s done with North America? Men and women sobbing openly? Try dancing in the streets. Getting out from under that nine-year contract, given to a 31-year-old would be a good idea if he was anything less than a world-beating goaltender, let alone one who can’t stop bleeding goals for CSKA against a bunch of Russians of whom no one stateside has ever heard or will ever hear. Sure, we get fewer jokes about huskies and bears and parks and tigers and the universe, but Flyers get an extra $5.67 million in cap space every year (or whatever the NHL chisels that down to in the next CBA), and far fewer headaches.

Likewise, if you can pick Sergei Kostitsyn out of a lineup, you are either the die-hardest Preds or Habs fan on the planet, or Andrei Kostitsyn.

The simple fact of the matter is that when it comes to most Eastern talent, it, like most Canadian or American or Scandinavian talent, wouldn’t be missed, and is replaced relatively easily. What are there, five Russians in the entire NHL who people would actually pay money to see, and are currently locked out in the KHL? We’re talking guys who actually put asses in seats in the NHL. Evgeni Malkin, check. Pavel Datsyuk, check. Ilya Kovalchuk, check (unless it’s one of the weeks in which the hockey world collectively decides he’s lazy and not living up to his contract). Alex Ovechkin, check (especially if this is three years ago). Okay, I only got to four off the top of my head. Maybe Anton Volchenkov? And that’s only if you really, really, really like no-offense defensemen.

The Capitals were all too happy to let Alex Semin, good though he may be, skip town to a divisional rival. Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov have seen far better days. Dmitry Kulikov is a good, young defenseman, to be sure, but few stateside would weep if any of these guys actually never came back. They would fistpump the night away if Anton Babchuk never came back to Calgary. No one is pleading for one more chance to see Nik Antropov. Meanwhile, it’s fairly certain that the Oilers would miss a guy like Nail Yakupov, who looked just about NHL-ready last season and is doing only okay in the KHL right now, and the same can be said of Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov, but those are guys who never played before an NHL audience, and therefore couldn’t really be missed by them.

I understand, through all this, that these KHLers probably don’t give a rat’s ass whether anyone in North America misses or cares about them. But the feeling is pretty much mutual. Which is why their threats are pointless. Have fun over there, guys.

Comments (14)

  1. I imagine Bryz’ leaving the NHL for the KHL would be much like when Roman Cechmanek left for Europe.

    • Roman who? J.K. The connection there is Philadelphia paid both of them. So that begs the question: does Philadelphia scare Russians or does Philadelphia do a bad job looking for long-term goalies who actually stick around?

  2. Blues fans would be robbed of getting to see that Tarasenko kid. He looks pretty good, no?

  3. But….Grabovski :(

  4. Come on about the 5 eastern euros who put ppl in their seats thats weak bud.

    There is about 5 Canadians players who have the marketing power to put those south of the border in the stands and given the current structure of the league that is what it boils down to.

  5. Ryan, this article is ridiculous. first of all, you should try to get a literal translation for what Sergei said (i dunno, tweet DChesnokov or something). he clearly meant that he wants certainty of where he is going to play, rather than have the imminent possibility that he’d have to could be yanked out of the lineup tomorrow and have to fly for training camp.

    secondly, if canada and the league alike pride themselves on having the best 750 hockey players in the world playing. so it is hypocritical to say they wouldn’t miss the europeans if they don’t like the terms. if crosby said the same thing about salary rollbacks as ovechkin/kovalchuk did this week (which he did, but more diplomatically and in english, without the crutch of doing google translate of a .ru website), you’d flip your shit over how it’s an unfair deal for the players. but as long as it’s someone overseas, you say that obviously you wouldn’t miss them.

    btw, yakupov is doing just fine in his first month of playing ADULT hockey. rookie of the month or week or something like that. you can look it up.

    • The NHL already doesn’t have the best 750 hockey players in the world. You only need to see the knuckledraggers that some teams carry. What the NHL has is that they have the top 5-10% of the players. A Sidney Crosby or Pavel Datsyuk will not, before now (other than when the WHA existed and the NHL was still trying to control salaries through Eagleson), ever look to play anywhere than the NHL.

      If they were to lose THOSE guys in any appreciable numbers then it’ll matter. Otherwise, it won’t matter if most of these guys stay overseas.

  6. Isn’t this just all posturing anyways. The league. The players. The fans. Everyones’ pissed that there’s no hockey being played right now so you can hardly take what’s being said as rational thought.

  7. When did Don Cherry get a score blog? what a joke.

  8. First of all, this is NOT what Sergei said. If anyone had bothered to translate and read the actual interview, they would have known that. And if anyone actually cared what he really said, they would have also known that Josh Cooper spoke to Sergei after the story was printed to clarify the facts even further. There was no threat to stay in the KHL, no wishing the lockout would continue and no American hate (except for Columbus maybe). Just more BS spread by the Russian haters in the hockey media (even though he isn’t Russian).

    Secondly, yes we would miss these players (most of them anyway). Some of these guys (Malkin, Ovechkin, Datsyuk, Kovy) are some of the best players in the league and the most fun to watch play—even if they aren’t on the teams we root for. And as far as recognizing players goes, if I ran into Geno on the street I doubt I would recognize him and he’s the effing MVP…that doesn’t mean I don’t love to watch him play and want him back in N.A. ASAP.

    As for the assertion that Russian players are not treated fairly (even when they aren’t actually Russian), called lazy, etc,—-that is somewhat accurate but it has more to do with the media and prejudice fans than it does the teams they play for. Andrei Kostitsyn may deserve some of the criticism he gets because he has done some stupid things but his stupidity has nothing to do with his nationality. He’s just acted like an idiot. SK on the other hand has played well in Nashville and not been a troublemaker. The whole “Russian Problem” argument has gotten ridiculous and those that keep spreading the hate should be banished from the hockey media…IMO.

  9. Are you serious with this article? The NHL relies on the strength of the imports that come over from Europe. Without the Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks, Russians, and even Germans, Danes, and Swiss, the league can no longer claim to be the best in the world. I think hockey is moving towards a landscape similar to soccer where multiple leagues have relevant high-quality talent. And personally, as a commited fan of the NHL, but the game of hockey first and foremost, I think its a good thing.
    Don’t be a hater

  10. To many players leave their hearts in Europe when they come to N.A. to play hockey. They take the money and run back home. Not all but most. I say take a cardiac reading before letting them into the country!

  11. I love most of your pieces but you’re really just speaking for yourself on this one. Grabovski’s been the Leafs strongest two way player for two seasons now. Any Leaf fan who WOULDN’T miss him is a low watt bulb.

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