Is NHL losing young guns?

LANCE HORNBY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Full details of the new collective bargaining agreement have yet to be released, but there are fears some of the top young players will not be part of the 'new' National Hockey League when it re-launches this autumn.

In the wake of guaranteed No. 1 pick Sidney Crosby's negotiations with Lugano of the Swiss League came word yesterday that Alexander Ovechkin, 2004's top choice, has signed a contract with the Russian team Avangard Omsk.

In both cases, it reflects a concern on their agents' part that the new CBA will be too stingy with rookie salaries, which are expected to be capped at $850,000 US a year, according to most reports.

"That's the risk of the deal," Edmonton-based player agent Ritch Winter said. "It (the young players' strategy) has been thought out."

Crosby's three-year Swiss deal could be worth up to $10 million, including a big signing bonus. Ovechkin, who played with Moscow Dynamo last year after the lockout scrubbed his debut with the Washington Capitals, is seeking a multi-million dollar deal in the NHL, too, but could settle for between $120,000 and $150,000 per month with Omsk -- with a $300,000 bonus. His one-year contract has an escape clause should he opt to sign with the Caps before July 20, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation website.

Dynamo, however, claims it retains Ovechkin's rights since it matched the Omsk offer. Reports in Russia say the matter is headed to arbitration.

"I'd like to go to Omsk, that is my current plan," Ovechkin told a Russian newspaper. "When the NHL bosses finally have an agreement with (the) NHLPA, I would prefer to continue my career in Washington."

Ovechkin also might become a pawn in a player transfer spat between the IIHF and NHL. The old agreement has expired and the Russians are threatening to ignore a new deal unless they're paid development money from NHL teams drafting their players.

As far as the labour talks have gone this week, the cat isn't out of the bag yet, but a tail, some paws and a few whiskers have been revealed. While league owners and players refuted yesterday's Los Angeles Times story that a tentative deal is complete, various twists on the proposed contents of the pact have emerged in the past few days.

Any delays in announcing a deal by early next week likely would be caused by having the complex document 'lawyered' before ratification. The board's executive committee has a scheduled meeting in New York on Monday.

But the players, about to be fitted for an unpopular salary cap and a 24% rollback on existing contracts, could hold out for some last-minute tweaking in their favour. They would want a freezing on roster sizes at the current 23 to protect jobs and to retain a form of salary arbitration.

In a move that would make the Leafs happy, the Times reported the so-called Crosby draft lottery would give all 30 teams an equal chance of winning the first pick.


Videos

Photos