Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Vorobiev, Konopka sign with Russian teams

Good intentions and no physical exertion whatsoever is what the game of golf was built on
Zenon Konopka with the Portland Pirates last season (photo credit: Ron Morin)

With the number of star Russian players about to sign with NHL teams a seeming dam ready to burst once the transfer agreement is signed (the new IIHF-imposed deadline: August 15th), the amount of even moderate-profile signings going back the other way has been few and far between. The list sort of began and ended with Denis Grebeshkov, up until Monday's well-publicized signing of renowned bust Fedor Fedorov-- which was a joke of an inevitability, anyway.

Earlier today, though, a couple of players who were standouts in the AHL and seemed poised to break through at the NHL level jumped ship to Russian teams. Ontario-born Zenon Konopka, who killed the Hartford Wolf Pack (and every other team that Portland faced) in the AHL playoffs this past spring, left the Anaheim Ducks to sign with Lada Togliatti, as reported in Sport Express. The 25-year-old Konopka scored 7 points (4g, 3a) and racked up 48 penalty minutes in 23 games with Anaheim last season, averaging only a handful of minutes per game, but he tore through the AHL with a vengeance. In 34 regular-season games with the Portland Pirates, Konopka tallied 44 points (18g, 26a) and was +22, and went on to be the leading scorer for Portland in the playoffs with 29 points in 19 games (11g, 18a).

Konopka had already stated his case for playing in Russia next season a couple of days before he actually signed, in an article in the Portland Press-Herald. The Press-Herald's online version doesn't list any Pirates stories, unfortunately, but the text of the article has been posted elsewhere, on message boards and the like.

From the July 25th Press-Herald article:

Konopka said his agent is negotiating with five teams from the Russian Super League, commonly considered the world’s top professional league after the National Hockey League.

Konopka is considering the move because he believes it will be difficult for him to earn a permanent spot on an NHL roster without upgrading his skating ability. Playing on the larger ice surfaces in the elite Russian league should help him improve in that area, he explained.

"It’s something my agent feels is the best thing for me to do to improve my skating," Konopka said. "It’s a bigger ice surface, and it’s a high calibre of play."

A restricted free agent, Konopka, 25, turned down a qualifying offer from the Anaheim Ducks earlier this month that would have increased his NHL base salary of $450,000 by five percent for the 2006-07 season. He earned about one-fifth of his NHL base salary while playing for the Pirates.

"If everything works out, I’d be making more (money) playing in Russia than I would in Anaheim or in Portland," he said.

If Konopka does go to Russia, Anaheim would retain his playing rights when he returns to North America.

"The problem with him leaving is that time away will allow others to pass him on the depth chart," said Bob Murray, Anaheim’s senior VP of hockey operations. "He was our first recall at center, and that position will have to be filled by someone else."

I will curse you constantly and in several languages

Also signing with a Russian team is the Chicago Blackhawks' Pavel Vorobiev, who signed with Khimik, as reported in Sport Express and confirmed on the Blackhawks' web site. Vorobiev, 24, scored 21 points (9g, 12a) in 39 games for Chicago last season, including 6 goals in his first 13 games. Vorobiev flew to Moscow on Tuesday, and was already scheduled to play for Khimik in a scrimmage game against Spartak earlier today. As with Konopka, Vorobiev's rights remain with his NHL team (in this case, with the Blackhawks for three more years), so it's very possible that both players could be back in the NHL the following season.

As for the August 15th deadline imposed on Russia for signing the NHL - IIHF transfer agreement, that was mentioned in a Sport Express article earlier today. The IIHF General Secretary, Jan-Ake Edvinsson, made a tour of the Moscow-area hockey arenas that will be used to host next year's IIHF World Championships. At a press conference afterwards, Edvinsson mentioned the deadline, adding, "It seems me, Russia has the sense to enter the agreement. It is better to have 50% of something, than 100% of nothing."


Blogger Brushback said...


A report in Sport Express today says that Zenon Konopka has been released from his contract with Lada.

Konopka, a restricted free agent, is apparently headed back to the AHL and the Portland Pirates for now.

10/4/06, 9:30 PM


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