We’ve hit November, and what would the month of November be without some manufactured hockey outrage? Grab your pitchforks kids, it’s time for a mutiny.
Now that we live in an NHL-free world, we must turn to other leagues to give us our daily dose of vitriol. As many of you are now avid AHL fans, several will be aware that Leafs prospect and current Toronto Marlies forward Leo Komarov has just about had his fill of the AHL during this lockout and wouldn’t mind heading back to the KHL. 11 games just about did the trick, and now he’s working with the Leafs to get back home and ensure he has the option to come back after the lockout.
Strike up the narratives.
The story has hit the internet and many people have taken much more offence to Komarov’s decision making than they ought to. Some lines of thinking have included the bad teammate argument, the greedy European argument and the classic “Who? LOL MAPLE LAFFS” gem.
We, as hockey fans, tend to overread things a little bit. During the last Stanley Cup playoffs there were so many conflicting conspiracy theories I was convinced the Montreal Maroons were going to spontaneously resurrect and claim the Cup for their own efforts.
Perhaps nothing suits the hockey fan’s propensity for conspiracy more than the idle speculation that comes with every transaction in the world. “Oh, his eighth cousin 14 times removed played in that state? Yes, that must be why he took a league minimum contract to play there.”
One day sports fans at-large will acknowledge that there is no conspiracy written in the cosmos. Until then, we have the internet. As Don Draper once wisely stated, “The universe is indifferent,” and you’d be hard pressed to find hard proof that the hockey universe is categorically different.
Komarov isn’t looking to head back to the KHL because he’s selfish and leaving his Marlies teammates high and dry, or because he’s a greedy European, or because the Illuminati told him to. The reasons are quite reasonable actually, and we ought to acknowledge that the rationales for most moves are of equal validity.
Komarov is making $62,500 playing with the Toronto Marlies right now. Enough to make a decent living? Sure. A substantial pay decrease from what he was making in the KHL? Most definitely (though the KHL doesn’t publish salaries). Considering he left the KHL solely to earn his shot at the NHL, the financials don’t quite work out to justify his stay in North America. Given that there is also currently no shot of him earning a call up with the Leafs, there is even less reason to stick around.
Let’s also not forget that Komarov’s family is likely still back in Europe. A lockout and massive pay decrease make that distance much less tenable.
From a hockey perspective, the influx of NHL talent has made the KHL a much more competitive league, and if Komarov is going to find out how he stacks up against NHL competition, the KHL is now the top place to cut his teeth. The AHL may be a more relevant type of game for prospective NHLers, but talent rules all. Nothing would put his career in a better position going forward than a KHL return, and a strong showing against several name brand NHLers.
Did I mention he’s contractually allowed to do this as well? Because he is.
Komarov, while an interesting case, is only a microcosm of the type of moves that happen in the pro hockey ranks on a daily basis. Is it fun to speculate on everything? You bet. But the amount of content to speculate on is pretty minimal.
Hockey players are people. Many of them are very rich people, and many of them leave us with very positive or very negative impressions, but that still leaves them squarely within the confines of personhood. While there are many rousing theories on why people choose to go to one team or turn down another, you can ultimately reduce every transaction to its impact on their salary, family and (you’ll note this is last) competition.
Would I gladly argue that 99.999% of players would take a big pay day over increased Stanley Cup odds? Sure. But perhaps that is a post for next week.
It may make for compelling television or comment sections, but odds are good that most hockey players’ reasons for choosing where they go play aren’t any different from you or I. They just do it in a much greater spotlight.