Thursday, January 24, 2008

Fewer Russians: Good Or bad?

1) Recently there have been a few stories about the decline in the number of Russian born players in the NHL. There have been several theories why as well as differing view points on how this has/will affect the game. Here we will attempt to analyze both questions and come to our own conclusions.

2) The NHL’s salary cap and its current player transfer agreement with the International Ice Hockey Federation resulted in the increased exodus this past summer of players signing with/staying in Europe. That’s led some observers to suggest this weakens the NHL talent base while bolstering the European leagues. To that assertion we say Bullshit!

3) Would the NHL this season have been significantly better if Alexei Yashin, Danny Markov, Aleksey Morozov,Oleg Tverdovsky, Dmitri Afanasenkov, Darius Kasparaitis, Stanislav Chistov, etc had played? Some might even argue that its BETTER without them! Why aren't they playing in the NHL? The reason is quite clear: they were no longer good enough to be NHL players. Period!

4) To start it helps to have perspective of time here. That is; to have witnessed first hand the NHL before the Russian/Eastern European invasion/ the NHL during the hay day of this mass emigration, and now the decline of the number of Russian born players. Having seen all those eras, we will say there is NO doubt that Russian/eastern Europeans have added an enormous amount to the high level/quality of NHL hockey. Its not even close to compare the pre-Red invasion to now. However along with these immensely talented players came some slugs who either were never good enough to play here, or didn't have the heart/desire to work to become the players they should/could have. We reject the notion that a lack of a transfer agreement is the cause of the current emigration.

5) At first most Russians playing in the NHL were older/cast offs from Central Red Army(Fetisov/Kasatonov/Markarov/Krutov/Larionov, etc). While some like Fetisov helped their teams win, none were of the super star quality, and none lived up to the advanced billing/hype that many fans anticipated. Later, starting with Alexander Mogilny and especially after the collapse of the "Evil Empire" the influx of younger, top flight Russians started. No one can possibly say that the league did not benefit from the inclusion of so many supremely talented players.

6) From the aforementioned Mogilny, to the Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, Sergei Federov, etc a new wave of young dynamic Russians invaded the league transforming its landscape. Suddenly every team was looking for the 'next Bure' or Molgilny. The drafting/signing of young untested Russian prospects mushroomed and the league became inundated and infused with not only some great and talented players, but also some who were quite over rated .

7) So when would we be worried about a loss of Russian talent to Europe? We'd be concerned IF players like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Semin, Gonchar, Volchenkov, Malkin, Zubov, etc left to play back home while still in their primes. fact is the best Russians are playing in the NHL. They will continue to do so unless/until a league is set up over there that affords similar salaries/endorsement opportunities that eclipse the NHL. Not to mention the vast difference in the standard of living. Russia, for those who have never visited, is close to being a 3rd world country.

8) All that said, there are reasons for concern. With the collapse of the Soviet Union/communism there has been a precipitous reduction of money for equipment, ice time, coaching etc for young players. As a result many fewer Russian can afford to play hockey, and in the long run we may lose(without knowing it) possible future superstars. Sadly little can be done about this trend. Even a new transfer agreement wouldn't change these economic realities. Much of the transferred money would end up in the hands of crooks and mafia anyway. We should continue to expect to see a decent group of Russians coming over in the future, but probably there will be fewer, and it appears the reality is there is nothing that can be done about this. Дурной новость для Русский


Shmee said...

When I was reading the WaPo Sunday mag's article on AO last year, something he said in it really stood out: that he wanted to play and compete in the best league in the world (he was already being well paid in the SuperLeague). At the end of the day, the NHL is the most elite league for hockey. Any true competitor is going to want to play here and for the people who are playing in other leagues...well, I think you already mentioned why they are there.

Hooks Orpik said...

I agree with the spirit and general message of this piece but have a few bones to pick:

--Aleksey Morozov IS skilled enough to be a top 6 winger on at least half the teams in the league. Unlike Ovechkin and many others, I think he doesn’t need to be playing in the top league in the world to feel validated. Morozov’s in his own culture, speaking his natural language. playing a game for still millions of (tax free) dollars and in many ways there’s nothing wrong with that.

--With the new CBA’s short timeframe to retain European prospects, NHL clubs are shying away from not only Russians but those that play across the pond in general. James Mirtle has the hard evidence the third graph down.

Overall your point probably holds water. After explosive and amazingly skilled players like Bure, Kovalev and Mogilny perhaps NHL clubs got enamored with trying to find the next of that kind.

Also I think it's worth mentioning that since Soviet collapse the NHL has morphed into a style most Russians (and Euros) don’t play; with the advent of the trap and dump and chase hockey in the past 10-15 years. With the way the game is now, it’s more conducive to a college or CHL player that’s use to the smaller surface and physicality than someone from a European Mens League.

DMG said...

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that teams are no longer enamored with Russian players. When the Russians started coming over it seemed like everyone thought their was something in the water over there that made their players all offensive juggernauts and while there certainly were many very skilled Russian players, many were 2nd-4th line players in the NHL. As team and players realized this, some players went back to Russia because it works out better for everyone: the players get to be higher profile and make more money (after taxes and all) and the NHL teams put North Americans on the 3rd and 4th lines who speak English as a native language and are more likely to be inclined to play the crash and bang style that's associated with depth players in the NHL.


1) Hooks: We have been reading about Morozov's skill for the past couple of years. Its impossible to know for sure being that he's been away from the NHL for 4 years.
2) Never scored more than 50 points. He's now 31 and probably just passing his prime offensive years. So its unlikely we'll see him back.

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