Last summer Ilya Kovalchuk dropped a bomb on the NHL community (this time off the ice) when he retired from the NHL, giving up a lucrative contract in the process, and returned to Russia to play in the KHL (for another lucrative contract). His decision - which the structure of his contract strongly implied would happen someday, if not so soon - furthered the already-pervasive belief that Russians don't really want to be in the NHL. Any hockey fan that has followed the draft since 2000 is familiar with "the Russian factor," i.e. a decline in draft position based on the fear that a prospect won't leave Russia (which is how the Caps ended up drafting a talent Evgeny Kuznetsov 26th overall). The metamorphosis of the Russian Superleague into the KHL in 2008 provided a more realistic, high-quality alternative to the NHL grind than had existed before, while a flood of oil and natural gas profits, combined with tax exemptions for athletes, gave KHL owners a powerful lure to attract Russian players. "Reverse defection" to the KHL is very real. According to data from QuantHockey.com, the number of Russian players in the NHL has declined from a high of 73 in 2000-2001 (or 7.5%) to 34 (3.5%). High-profile reverse defectors have included Nikolai Zherdev, Nikita Filatov, and Alexander Radulov. However, it wasn't until Kovalchuk decamped for SKA St. Petersburg that a bona-fide Russian superstar in his prime (or close to it) had chosen the KHL over the NHL. Since his departure, members of the hockey media have discussed the impact of his defection and speculated who the next Russian to leave the NHL might be. The Hockey News's Adam Proteau has moved beyond speculation to flat out advocacy. It was really only a matter of time, but Proteau finally published the inevitable column explaining not only that Alex Ovechkin would be the next Russian to give up millions of NHL dollars, but going so far as to say that it would be a good thing for the Caps. Feel free to click the link, but if you're actively looking to destroy your own cognitive functions I'd suggest a nice glass of scotch (or four), instead... Proteau's column doesn't even make it through two sentences before his opinion collides unfavorably with reality: At first blush, the idea of Alex Ovechkin leaving the NHL to go home to his native Russia and play in the Kontinental League seems screwy. Unfortunately, after nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has failed to live up to expectations - if not as an individual, then certainly as the driver of a team. Alex Ovechkin is the two-time reigning goal-scoring champion of the NHL. He won his third Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player last summer. That makes three Harts, three Lindsay/Lester B. Pearson Trophies (MVP as voted by the players), four Rocket Richard trophies as the top goal-scorer, an Art Ross Trophy as the league's leading scorer, a Calder Trophy as the top rookie... and that's just the formal NHL awards.
On the "Blessing in Disguise" of an Ovechkin Defection to Russia
Japers' Rink | May 30