Contract negotiations, no matter what’s at stake, are always like a game of poker. Hands are held close to the vest, chips go in the pot and bluffs are thrown out there with the hope that one side will bite and be the first to show a tell, allowing their opponent to take advantage.
At this point in the $3.3 billion high-stakes game neither side in the NHL contract negotiations is showing much weakness, but some bluffs have been thrown out there.
The biggest bluff was put forth by Washington Capitals star and former NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin.
Ovechkin, who is in the midst of a 13-year, $124 million contract with the Washington Capitals, told Sportsbox.ru (h/t to Washington Post), "As to the future, it will depend on what kind of conditions there will be in the NHL with the new CBA. If our contracts get slashed, I will have to think whether to return there (NHL) or not. I won’t rule out staying in the KHL, even past this season."
That’s a monster of a bluff and odds are about 99.9 percent that Ovechkin will fold if and when it comes time for the NHL to call that bluff. Why? Well, that’s a lot of guaranteed money for a hockey league that remains in its infancy to pony up for one player, and most importantly it would violate the terms of Ovechkin’s contract with the Washington Capitals, a contract that runs through the 2021 season. If you think that the NHL wouldn’t fight one of their biggest stars violating a contract, you’re pretty much crazy.
Speaking of crazy, Ilya Bryzgalov, goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers and owner of a nine-year $51 million contract, offered his opinion (via TSN.ca) on the subject of players staying in the KHL, "I think some of the players may not return to the NHL because you have everything here and major companies are going to pay the top players here big money. And, especially for Russians players who can play at home in front of their own fans and families and [earn] even bigger money than they have in the National Hockey League."
While some Flyers fans and perhaps team management would like to see Bryzgalov follow through on those words, it’s not going to happen. Bryzgalov isn’t going to stay in the KHL if the lockout ends, nor is Ovechkin, nor is any other NHL player that has an active contract with an NHL club.
This fact was confirmed by a KHL spokesman who recently spoke to SI.com, "The current KHL-NHL Memorandum of Agreement precludes what Ovechkin is suggesting from happening. The only possible exception would be if Ovechkin worked out a separation agreement with the Capitals regarding his existing contract, which is a matter that would be between Alexander and his current club."
So, there you have it, the NHL and the KHL have an agreement in place that prevents players under contract with NHL teams from fleeing the NHL for the KHL, that is unless the team they are contracted to play for permit them to do so. To think that Capitals brass would give their blessing for something like that is laughable in the case of Ovechkin.
Now, Bryzgalov, well, that may be a different story.