Monday, January 14, 2013
KHL prez shouldn't be rushing to judgment
By Pierre LeBrun
You wonder if Alexander Medvedev is at some point going to realize that silence is a better option.
The KHL president’s continued criticism of the NHL over the past week, in the wake of Russian star players having to leave his league and head back to the lockout-free NHL, lacks judgment, to say the least.
Has it ever occurred to Medvedev that the NHL and NHL Players’ Association have yet to commit to the Sochi 2014 Olympics?
Why is he stirring up the KHL-NHL animosity pot before getting official assurance that the NHL is a go for your Olympics?
The latest Medvedev anti-NHL comments came over the weekend.
"Not all the people who govern NHL teams have a hockey heart," Medvedev was quoted as saying in some Russian media reports.
Their hearts, he added, are made "from another material and has money signs stuck to it."
He was upset that Russian stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin weren’t allowed to stay and play in Sunday’s KHL All-Star Game, although fellow NHL stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk did.
"Several clubs look down on the international aspects of hockey development and think that it's better to stew in your own stock. They could have released the players without any harm, but greed has strangled them and they didn't allow it," Medvedev was quoted as saying.
Never mind that Medvedev has enjoyed, since September, having 40-plus NHLers in his league because of the lockout, including the very best of his homegrown superstars.
This reminds me a bit of my soon-to-be four-year-old daughter. If I allow her to watch one extra "Dora the Explorer" episode before bedtime, she’s already forgotten that little bonus when crying that I’m turning off the TV.
Medvedev got used to having his Russian NHL stars in his league and forgot about that little reality of the NHL lockout ending.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for what he’s accomplished with his league. The KHL is a bona-fide alternative to the NHL in terms of top-notch hockey and the conditions in the league have improved greatly over the past few years, as has the product itself.
And I have no doubt that young Russian players will continue to opt to stay home and play in the KHL if not in their development years from age 18 through 23 but perhaps for their entire careers. I’ve got no problem with that. Like European soccer, I believe it’s healthy for the NHL to have real competition and to spread some of the talent more around the world.
But the way Medvedev is acting doesn’t cut it. The NHL is back, and the Russian stars under NHL contract have to come back as well. Doesn’t Medvedev remember signing that Memo of Understanding with the NHL a few years ago regarding respecting signed player contracts between leagues? Or was that just a legal document that would come in handy for Medvedev when it suited him?
After speaking with a few Russian hockey observers Monday, it was also suggested to me that perhaps Medvedev's anti-NHL rants over the past week were mostly for public consumption -- to feed the KHL fan base -- but in reality he understands how the dominoes really fall and always expected to lose his Russian NHL stars once the lockout ended.
Nonetheless, Medvedev needs to keep his focus on the big prize.
The world’s greatest hockey tournament is coming to his country next February and he will want the best players in the world to be there.
Oh, sure, I believe the likes of Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Datsyuk would risk NHL suspension and try to play in Sochi even if the NHL isn’t there. But would Henrik Zetterberg, Sidney Crosby and Zach Parise do the same? No way. They’re only going if the NHL and NHLPA have signed off on it.
I can’t imagine Russia would feel that proud about winning Olympic gold without the other countries having their top players in the tournament.
So Alex, take a chill pill, dude. This isn’t worth the fuss you’re making it out to be.