February 29, 2008

Russia Is Luring Back NHL Stars:: "the Soviet Union [was] a hockey superpower for decades that was bleeding talent profusely. The sport had all but disintegrated there by the early 1990s as the empire that spawned one of the most successful sporting industries in the world melted into decrepitude. Most hockey players of international merit left Russian clubs, which began to fester in an atmosphere of poverty, gangsterism and occasional violence."

But thanks to a national economy that's starting to regain its footing, as well as the exodus of former NHLers like Oleg Tverdovsky and Alexei Yashin, the Russian Super League is beginning to bring hockey back to the forefront of the Russian sporting landscape.

posted by chicobangs to hockey at 10:20 AM - 20 comments

They clearly have a long way to go yet -- the vignette about Carol Alt having a hard time living in a small town at the far-ass end the Volga someplace is just weird -- but we're only going to be hearing more about this. This could easily become hockey's answer to the Japanese Major Leagues.

posted by chicobangs at 10:23 AM on February 29, 2008

I think the plan to ultimately challenge the NHL is a bit audacious. Step one would be to keep all of the best Russian players in Russia. While the league has managed to bring home some former NHLers, they're hardly the cream of the Russian crop. Yashin himself, poster boy for the movement home, didn't return until a very bad Islanders team found him expendable. He's in the twighlight of a career that never really lived up to expectations, so his return, along with Teverdovsky, a never-was and Pavelsky, doesn't really send any kind of message to the NHL. The NHL didn't want them anymore, so they can take their ball and go home. But, hey, let's assume that somewhere down the road, by some force of nationalism, all the best Russian players stay in their home country to play. The best players in the NHL aren't all Russian. If they can't lure Swede, Finn, Czech, Slovak, American, and especially Canadian players, they'll never compete with the NHL. Sure, the league would miss some of its young talent (Malkin and Ovechkin come to mind) but as a percentage, how much of the elite are Russian? I appreciate the attempt to recreate a top-notch hockey league in Russia. I just think these guys are talking out of their collective ass if they think they are even close to competing with the NHL any time soon. There might be a bunch of new money in Russia, but there is still a shitload more to be made in North America, and players will have the advantage of living a lifestyle that the emerging neuvo-fascist Russian state will not allow.

posted by tahoemoj at 11:47 AM on February 29, 2008

Well, Curtis Joseph is over there. I'm sure there's others. But your point is valid. The gangsters may not be running the place as completely as they once used to, but hockey is still a crooked business over there, and the fans don't have nearly as much disposable income as they do in North America, for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with sport. Yeah, this is not happening in the present tense. But it looks like they're moving in the right direction. This is one way to rebuild a once-popular sport in a national consciousness. If the Russian Elite League (or even a Euro Superleague with the Finns & Swedes & Czechs & whoever else) was a real going concern in, say, 10-20 years, I wouldn't be surprised in the least.

posted by chicobangs at 11:58 AM on February 29, 2008

how much of the elite are Russian? Good point, sir. There was another thread a few months back regarding a possible Russian Super League threatening the talent pool of the NHL. My opinion at that time was that I hope it didn't affect the NHL in an adverse way. Specifically in the situation of - franchise loses player. Team sucks. Fans leave. Franchise folds or moves. I am no longer convinced that this will have that effect. 1.) I can't see Canadian elite players going to Russia. Less money. Housing that is more like a barrack than the Four Seasons. Further from home and family. There's no advantage for an elite Canadian to go. 2.) I can't see US players going there either. I'm excited about the US born players right now. Patrick Kane, Eric Johnson, and the up and coming TJ Oshie, could all be elite players in the years to come. And those US born players are excited too. They want to represent the US while playing in the NHL. 3.) The European players could be a split. I do think that the money will have a lot to do with it, and like tahoemoj said, what kind of lifestyle they want to lead. Ultimately, the better skilled players will demand the money, and the NHL will give it to them. 4.) If the Russia majority chooses to stay in Russia to play, well, I'll miss players like Federov, Malkin, and Lidsrtom, but there's a lot of talent here too. All in all, as a true hockey fan, I'd love to watch some games from the Russian Super League. I'd love to see a NHL Stars vs. RSL Stars game. I'd like to see the best players from each country in the Olympics as well. Thanks for the article, chico. Good Read. Well, Curtis Joseph is over there. Is he? I thought he just had a start for the Flames within the last week?

posted by BoKnows at 12:11 PM on February 29, 2008

It's not uncommon for undrafted North American players to go overseas to play. Just look where Rafalski was playing before being signed by the Devils. So I could see Canadian and US players going to the Russian Super League. Where were all of the elite players playing during the 2004-2005 season? When does the current CBA expire?

posted by MrFrisby at 01:06 PM on February 29, 2008

Well, Curtis Joseph is over there. What BoKnows said. Joseph is currently signed with the Flams and has played in three games.

posted by Ying Yang Mafia at 02:02 PM on February 29, 2008

I'm not saying there's no possibility of North American players going over there to play. I'm saying that the best are going to stay here to play in the best league for the most money. Sure, Rafalski spent some time in Europe, but that's because he was undrafted. He is one of extremely few players who go overseas after college to play and play themselves into an NHL contract. And the cases of CuJo and Rafalski kind of prove the point. They went to play in Europe until they got an offer from an NHL team, at which point they left in Europe nothing but a vapor trail on the way out. The article's point is that the powers that be in this Russian league point to a few cases to make the assertion that their league will compete with and possibly eclipse the NHL, and I'll make the prediction now that it will never happen.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:19 PM on February 29, 2008

You're talking about now. (I stand corrected about CuJo. I meant he started the year over there, and I just didn't tense it right.) No one is saying they're the equal of the NHL now, not even Fetisov or the pointyheads over there. And the money and quality of play may never be the true equal of the NHL either. But I'm telling you, this is going to happen. Within a dozen years or so, if managed properly, the Russian league will be at least as good and as popular as Japanese baseball. At least.

posted by chicobangs at 03:02 PM on February 29, 2008

From about.com: Over 350 members of the NHL Players' Association took their game to Europe during the 2004-05 NHL lockout Dynamo Moscow won its the Russian championship with an NHL assist from Maxim Afinogenov, Artem Chubarov, Pavel Datsyuk, Andrei Markov and Sergei Samsonov. Based in Kazan, a small city in the eastern republic of Tatarstan, the Snow Leopards spent a reported $65 million US on a roster that included Nikolai Khabibulin, Vincent Lecavalier, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Kovalev, Dany Heatley and Darius Kasparaitis. The Czech league was victimized by bidding wars. Jaromir Jagr, Martin Havlat and Patrik Elias were among those who began with Czech teams before bailing out for better offers in Finland or Russia. Russia hosted 70 NHLPA visitors, with a couple of teams said to be among the richest in Europe. Emphasis mine. All I am saying is that Russia (or Europe in general) wasn't such a bad place to play during the last lockout. And as you can see, some places did have a decent amount of money to throw around. Add to that the seemingly declining popularity of the NHL, and the possibilty of another lockout in the near future, well, the thought of a European league competing with the NHL doesn't seem so far fetched to me.

posted by MrFrisby at 03:08 PM on February 29, 2008

I'll go one further: I would predict that within the next half century, the Prague Rockers or the Volga Boatmen or the Leningrad Cowboys (or, okay, Dynamo or Kimik or my favorite team name, Magnitogorsk Metallursk) will get their names etched on the Stanley Cup. Maybe even in Cyrillic. And if Don Cherry is still alive when that happens, that'll surely be what kills him.

posted by chicobangs at 03:30 PM on February 29, 2008

I think I'd gladly bet against that happening. Not saying I wouldn't like it or it wouldn't be fun, just betting against it happening.

posted by tahoemoj at 03:37 PM on February 29, 2008

Well, it might happen. I'm not suggesting it isn't outside of the realm of possiblity. However, I think a more plausible impact in the next dozen years will be the Super League being more attractive to younger Russian players who would go as high picks in the NHL. At the present - if Alexei Yashin and Oleg Teverdovsky are two important NHLers, I'll eat my own ass.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 04:39 PM on February 29, 2008

Oh yeah? Well, me & my walker (and my palliative care professional and my oxygen drip) are gonna take a bus across the country if I have to to collect on that bet when the Omsk Angst wins the 2048-49 Stanley Cup in six games over the Cairo Practors, and see if I don't!

posted by chicobangs at 04:41 PM on February 29, 2008

My money is on the Noversibirsk Jazz.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 04:56 PM on February 29, 2008

If you need me then, I'll be taking a dirt nap.

posted by tahoemoj at 05:13 PM on February 29, 2008

Hey, price drivers and trade bait are very important to the NHL!

posted by MrFrisby at 05:17 PM on February 29, 2008

Within a dozen years or so, if managed properly, the Russian league will be at least as good and as popular as Japanese baseball. At least. I would agree with you, Chico, save for one unfortunate thing. In order to have a successful sports league, you have to have fans who will pay to see the games and businesses that will sponsor the teams. I don't have the figures at hand to compare the disposable income numbers of Japan and Russia, but I would bet there is a considerable disparity. Further, baseball teams in Japan are corporately owned by automobile manufacturers, newspapers, railroads, and the like. I just don't see that happening in Russia, although sponsorship by state-owned agencies is possible. This would be the equivalent of the NHL teams being sponsored by the IRS, Army, Homeland Security, and so on. Without the affluent fan base and the corporate sponsorship, you won't be able to afford the salaries even second-tier NHL players might command. In other words, a Russian league will be third-rate at best, at least until living standards there rise considerably.

posted by Howard_T at 01:40 PM on March 01, 2008

Its the young stars that its an issue for. Malkin took a SERIOUS pay cut to come to the NHL. The super league has no restriction for rookies, so while Malkin makes the rookie minimum here in North America, he could be making 5 or 6 times as much playing at home. Also, you guys are forgetting some of the young guys who have stayed in Russia, like Korolyuk and Perezhogin, who both looked promising before they left for Russia.

posted by Zeege at 02:15 PM on March 02, 2008

Howard, you are half-right. Didn't you read the article? Gazprom, Rosoboronexport, Russian Railroads and others are pumping money into Russian teams with sponsorships. Russian hockey fans don't pay NHL ticket prices and can't afford to. That could change. The prices for the upcoming UEFA Champions League soccer final in Moscow range from 80 to 200 euros ($295).

posted by Steve-o at 03:17 AM on March 03, 2008

Howard, you are half-right. Thanks, Steve-o, I've been called a half-something many times, but it usually had something to do with "wit" or "ass". I did read the post, but rather hurriedly, and I must have overlooked that. Still, since these companies are tightly controlled by the State, I equate it to government agency sponsorship of the teams. The Russian economy might be performing better than it had been, but investment in infrastructure would be a better choice than athletics. (The same might be said of what goes on here in our good, old US of A. Somehow, millions poured into a municipal stadium in order to give an owner a sweetheart lease seems a bad deal when the roads leading to that stadium are falling apart due to lack of maintenance funds. I don't speak of any particular example here, but I'm sure you understand the pattern.) Sorry if I seem to interject politics into this. It isn't meant that way, It's just my reasons for disagreeing with the original premise. Wrong I may be, but it's my opinion, and I'm stuck with it.

posted by Howard_T at 09:06 AM on March 03, 2008

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