The Russians are leaving: Free agents choose KHL over NHL to play in Olympics

 

 
 
 
 
n this Dec. 19, 2015, file photo, Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates after scoring in a Channel One Cup game against Finland in Moscow.
 

n this Dec. 19, 2015, file photo, Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates after scoring in a Channel One Cup game against Finland in Moscow.

Photograph by: Ivan Sekretarev

By Aaron Torres

In April, the NHL announced that it would not be sending players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, with commissioner Gary Bettman saying the league did not want to disrupt its regular season.

Among those affected by that decision are players from Russia, and some are apparently deciding to leave the NHL and head to the Kontinental Hockey League so they can participate in the Games.

When NHL free agency kicked off on July 1, some Russian players — Philadelphia Flyers forward Roman Lyubimov, Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Lars Johansson, former first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko and former Tampa Bay Lightning defender Nikita Nesterov — decided to sign in the KHL.

Two players, Lyubimov and former New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk, said the Olympics was either the main reason, or one of the reasons, for going to or staying in the KHL.

“One of the main factors was the upcoming Olympic Games. In 2018, only players who play in European championships and the KHL can compete there,” Kovalchuk said July 9, via CSKA Moscow.

Kovalchuk did try to come back to the NHL for the upcoming season, but the Devils were unable to get a concrete offer for the 34-year-old forward, according to an article in Yahoo Sports on July 9.

After the NHL’s decision, the Russian Hockey Federation said on April 5 that one of its goals was to bring back Russian hockey players from the NHL so its players could compete in the Olympics.

“We accept the National Hockey League’s decision. At the moment, we are continuing our World Championship and Olympic Games preparations,” said Arkady Rotenberg, the board chairman of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, in a statement. “Now, we have two tasks. The first is to keep KHL players in Russia instead of moving to the NHL in the summer. The second task is to bring Russian players home from the NHL if their contract is expiring.”

Some Russian players — including several of the most prominent — have elected to stay in the NHL. Alexander Radulov signed a five-year, US$31.25 million contract with the Dallas Stars; Evgeny Dadonov re-signed with the Florida Panthers for three years and $12 million; and Vadim Shipachyov signed a two-year deal worth $9 million with the Vegas Golden Knights.

Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said he thought about playing in the KHL this season, but instead resigned with the Caps for eight years, $62.4 million.

It’s unknown if players who are under contract, such as Alex Ovechkin, will defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway.

 
 
 
Font:
 
 
 
 
n this Dec. 19, 2015, file photo, Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates after scoring in a Channel One Cup game against Finland in Moscow.
 

n this Dec. 19, 2015, file photo, Russia's Ilya Kovalchuk celebrates after scoring in a Channel One Cup game against Finland in Moscow.

Photograph by: Ivan Sekretarev

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Your voice