Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kerrzy’s Notebook: Next Stop, the KHL?

Could the promise of millions of dollars per year in tax-free money actually lure some of the NHL’s top players overseas?

You might not think it’s possible, but Kontinental Hockey League president Alexander Medvedev is apparently making it his goal in life to make it happen.

According to one of my favorite hockey sites, Russian Hockey Fans, Medvedev attended New Jersey’s loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday and planned to speak with newly acquired Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk and his wife afterwards.

Here’s part of what Medvedev told Gazeta.ru:

"Atlanta already regrets that they parted with Kovalchuk. On the other hand New Jersey almost secured themselves a playoff spot. We are still considering to transfer Ilya to the KHL."

This story might actually have something to it – Sportsnet's Mike Brophy discussed the possibility of Kovalchuk, even Alex Ovechkin, ditching the NHL for the KHL in an article back in mid January.

The big issue? Money.

According to an anonymous NHL general manager cited in Brophy’s article, Sergei Fedorov is pulling in $14-million this season. If a “name” guy like that can make that kind of money in the twilight of his career, just imagine what players like Ilya Kovalchuk or Alex Ovechkin could wind up making.

Oh yeah, did I mention it’s tax free and KHL players aren’t paying 18 per cent of their salaries into escrow this season?

What Ilya Kovalchuk does with his career come July 1st will probably be the biggest story of the upcoming off-season, and these stories add a new wrinkle to the situation. Don’t forget, the soon-to-be UFA turned down an offer from Atlanta that would have made him the highest paid player in the league ($10-million per season), because he apparently wanted to make the league maximum ($11.2-million).

With that in mind, if a KHL team were to dangle something like $20-million per season (as Brophy’s anonymous GM suggested) in front of Kovalchuk, doesn’t it sound like he’d have a hard time saying no?

Here’s something else the NHL might be a little worried about: apparently Alex Ovechkin, who is under contract until 2021, has said he would consider leaving the Capitals after this season because he’s so upset about having to give up 18 per cent of his salary to escrow.

Will either of these players end up jumping ship?

I honestly think that there’s a pretty good chance Kovalchuk will at least give serious thought to any big time offers from the KHL that may come up this summer. If Ovechkin was serious about bailing on a deal that still has eleven years left on it though, that’s a whole other can of worms.

One thing is for sure - if the NHL loses Kovalchuk or Ovechkin, or both, to the “K,” it’ll be huge news. Stay Tuned!

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