When word came out that first Russia, then the Czech Republic, were voting not to ratify the new NHL - IIHF transfer agreement, it was said that the NHL had threatened to not allow any players under NHL contract to return to their home countries
and represent their national teams at the Torino Winter Olympics if those countries did not ratify the agreement. A bit of "dirty pool", perhaps. The Czech Republic did eventually join in with the transfer agreement, which sets the level of compensation that European teams will receive when a player that they have under contract leaves his home club to go play in the NHL, but Russia did not. Russia wants to allow its clubs to negotiate the price of player transfers on an individual basis, hopefully leading to either higher transfer fees or more Russian players staying at home to play. One of the more notable Russian players in this equation now is Evgeni Malkin, who was drafted (but not signed yet) by the Pittsburg Penguins and is unanimously rated as being one of the top 2 or 3 prospects in the world.
Malkin tells Jagr how much of a wuss he thinks he really is
Earlier today (in Russian time, you know), the Russian website Sport-Express.ru printed an interview with Rene Fasel, the president of the IIHF, in which Fasel addressed some of these issues. They may turn out to be minor points (and the translation might be a little rough, too, which would be partly my fault), but I felt that it was interesting anyway. Fasel also said, in so many words, that Bettman is an upstanding and trustworthy guy, but of course I left that part out. Will it come out now that the NHL won't let Russian players go to compete in the Olympics?
"No, it will not-- all hockey players will be allowed to go to Torino. We are unanimous on this position: The Olympic Games are too important for our sport. In no way should personal ambitions prevail above the interests of the game and the fates of people. How can we force our young players, who have a dream of playing with their national teams, to forego it?"Can you say precisely if this was used to influence the position of the leaders of Russian clubs?
"I cannot assert this."Now that Russia has said "no" to the agreement, will the doors be closed to them?
"No, the door is not closed. There are seven hockey federations (Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the NHL) that signed the agreement. I hope that Russia will join them. So that you know that I am sincere on this fact, I would personally like to organize the next hockey summit, in the summer of 2006, in Russia. I can name two cities, Moscow or Saint Petersburg, where in any of them, hockey people would feel very comfortable. In a word, I do not assume the Russian "no" to be in the final version." The Russian side wants it so that the NHL would recognize their contracts with their players. In your view, is this realistic?
"Bettman is ready to agree to have the NHL representatives meet with representatives from Russia, and together they can develop a 'universal contract' which will be acknowledged on both sides of ocean. However, in Europe it is accepted as the law that contracts with any players that have reached 18 (summer age) cannot be any longer than for two years. It is not possible in Europe to deprive the young players their free agency. Although, of course, I understand it when clubs want to preserve their good players for themselves."
End note: In regards to the Russian national team, Alexander Ovechkin is one player who has spoken about this issue. In an interview with sport-express.ru
that had been posted on the Russian Hockey Digest web site a couple of days ago, Ovechkin was asked if his move overseas to North America, along with Russia's refusal to ratify the NHL - IIHF agreement, would create any difficulties for him in participating with the Russian national team. His response was, "I've already said several times that the national team is my first priority, and if they invite me, than I’d definitely come over... I have a special term in my contract: upon the invitation from the national team, Washington’s management is required to let me go."