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Cold War II

It looks like a new Cold War is getting ready to escalate, based on a couple stories featured this morning over at Kukla's Korner. First, we have Alexander Radulov sounding off in the Russian press against the supposed looting of his country by the insidious forces of the NHL:

Insisting he's broken no rules, Radulov has already played three exhibition games with his new club. The rising star painted himself as a patriot returning home, signalling a return to prominence for Russian hockey in a question-and-answer session this week with Russian reporters.

"The NHL for 15 years has brought young players from Europe, first and foremost from Russia," according to a translation in Russianprospects.com. "I think that it is time to end this. Simply put: (It's) time to stop robbing us."
Hmm... it looks like somebody has really drunk the Kool-Aid when it comes to Russian patriotism. Of course, a new multi-million dollar contract combined with a complete tax exemption will do a lot to bolster one's love of country. Did I miss a story somewhere in which David Poile and Barry Trotz snuck into Radulov's quaint peasant village back in Russia and carried him off in a burlap sack to toil away in a Nashville gulag? I don't think so. Radulov came over to North America to pursue his own dream of playing hockey at the highest level possible, and now he's heading back for a combination of lucre and supposedly patriotic celebrity.

Then there's this:
"I completely agree with the position of my new club: During the signing of the contract there was no agreement between the NHL and the KHL," said Radulov. "If we didn't violate any rules, what is there to punish for?"
If Radulov actually believes he didn't violate any rules, then he's much more gullible than we ever could have guessed. He simply walked out on his contract with the Predators, and now the matter is just how easily he can get away with it. The likely scenario has him being banned from international competition for a while, but that's a small price to pay for the wealth and celebrity he's enjoying back home.

In the broad scheme of things the Radulov affair is a mere set piece to the larger conflict starting to arise between the upstart KHL and the NHL. In this morning's NY Post (also found via Kukla), KHL leader Alexander Medvedev taunts Gary Bettman over the player transfer issue, and flat-out dares him to try asserting the NHL's rights over Radulov in a Russian court. After all the bluster between the two leaders, however, this bomb is dropped in at the end of the article:

The Post has learned that Medvedev also informed Bettman that the KHL would hold a universal draft for the 2009-10 season that will include players currently under contract in the NHL. Medvedev told Bettman KHL clubs will offer signing bonuses of $1M to players who are playing in the NHL this season.
Contracts be damned, Medvedev is saying, may the deepest pockets win.

Red Dawn
Save us Patrick Swayze, you're our only hope

On one level, it's interesting to see free market instincts taking such a firm hold in the former stronghold of Communism. On the other hand, free market economics only works well when contracts are reliably enforced, and the KHL is openly mocking that concept. The best magazine in the world recently had a special report on the international sports business, but one aspect they left out was this issue of contract law and how it plays out between rival leagues in separate countries. In soccer, they've dealt with this issue for a long time, so transfer fees are a relatively common practice. For hockey, this is new ground, and the IIHF, while making all the right noises, has no real power over clubs either in North America or Europe.

At this point it's hard to see how this conflict will be resolved, but one thing is sure. In light of sky-high oil prices (which are bolstering the Russian economy) and the declining American dollar, the KHL should have the financial clout to become a major thorn in the NHL's side for many years to come.

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