Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fetisov: 20 Million Oughta Do It

Slava Fetisov

From David Nowak of The Moscow Times (articles become part of the paid archives after a day or two, unfortunately):

The growing problem of Russian players fleeing the country mid-contract to play for pre-eminent U.S. and Canadian clubs is costing the Russian Super League millions of dollars, hockey officials say.

Yet, for all their complaining, club owners and the Federal Agency for Physical and Sports have done little, if anything, about the key issue: the Labor Code's Article 80, which states that an employee has a right to terminate a contract with two weeks' notice, irrespective of how much time and money has been invested in that employee.

The reason may be that it is difficult to do anything about the notoriously byzantine Labor Code, which is widely despised by business owners.

Henry Rutstein, a Russian labor law specialist at the law firm Linklaters's Moscow office, observed that the Labor Code could be amended to make it more difficult for players to breach their agreements with teams.

So far, American courts have not been amenable to Russian lawsuits seeking compensation for lost players.

Nikolai Zherdev left CSKA Moscow mid-contract in 2005 to join the Columbus Blue Jackets. When CSKA sued in the United States, the judge presiding over the case ruled in the player's favor.

"The National Hockey League does not accept Russian Hockey Federation rules," Federal Sports Agency spokesman Dmitry Tugarin said.

True, hockey federations that sign on to an IIHF collective-bargaining agreement are entitled to $200,000 per player lost to the NHL. But in Evgeni Malkin's case, as in the case of other Russian players, no one will be getting any cash: The Russian Hockey Federation is the only national federation that has refused to sign the agreement. The federation fears giving a tacit nod to NHL poaching, as they see it, of their players.

Tugarin scoffed at the compensation doled out by the NHL. "$200,000 is nothing in comparison to what it costs to develop a talented player," he said, adding that it costs $1 million to $1.5 million to train a Russian Super League star from childhood through adolescence.

Anatoly Kharchuk, Dynamo Moscow's president, confirmed that teams are hemorrhaging rubles. "If you take into account everything spent on players -- development from an early age, coaching, travel, accommodations and food -- that $1.5 million figure is completely accurate," Kharchuk said. Had Malkin grown up in Moscow, he said, it would have cost even more.

Kharchuk said his club had spent roughly $2 million to train Ovechkin, who left Russia last year after having played for Dynamo Moscow for a little more than three years.

"We should have an agreement like they have in football," he said, "where a club names its price for a player when another club is interested in that player. We are losing huge amounts of money."

FIFA, the international football federation, exerts significant power over national leagues around the globe. If a player leaves a club mid-contract without the consent of the club, he or she can be penalized. The IIHF does not have the same authority as FIFA, which can bar players from taking part in the game.

Federal Sports Agency chief Vyacheslav Fetisov, a former NHL great, made it clear he thought the team should pay. What does he think the hockey player is worth? "For a guy like Malkin," Fetisov said at a meeting Thursday with reporters, "$20 million is appropriate."