The floodgates have opened! Or have they?
Locked-out Russian NHLers have poured into the KHL over the past two weeks, with scarcely anyone left unemployed as of now (with apologies to golden oldies such as Nikolai Khabibulin and Evgeny Nabokov).
A trickle of Czech and Slovak stars have joined Lev Prague and Slovan Bratislava, the KHL's newest teams, the only ones located outside of the former Soviet Union. One of the NHL's brightest European stars, Zdeno Chara, has been preparing to debut for Lev this weekend.
But there was a curious absence of North American players going over to what is, for the duration of the NHL lockout, the top hockey league in the world.
This has been in stark contrast to the previous lockout of 2004-05, which saw the likes of Vincent Lecavalier, Dany Heatley and Brad Richards rush overseas for the big money offered by what was then the Russian Superleague. Nowadays, both the KHL teams' weariness of signing North Americans, who are seen as uncaring and unreliable, and the North Americans' own doubts have all but shut down the league's non-European market.
However, Winnipeg Jets forward Evander Kane has taken the plunge, signing with Dinamo Minsk, Belarus' only KHL representative. Jets captain Andrew Ladd was on the verge of going to Siberia to join Avangard Omsk but cancelled those plans because of his wife's pregnancy.
And that after Avangard general manager Vladimir Kapulovsky said the fact "Canadians never give up and never surrender" was his reason for signing Ladd. Ouch!
Minsk has long been fond of Canadian imports. Dinamo began this season with five Canadians on the roster (one, former Habs prospect Daniel Corso, has since been released), although some of those players have become naturalized Belarusians. Kane's debut, against Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was rather quiet. The Vancouver native's only memorable action was getting into a little scrap in front of the goal, and he was upstaged by another NHLer making his first KHL appearance, Lokomotiv goalie Semyon Varlamov, who made 38 saves in earning a 2-1 victory.
Ladd's signing this week -- he changed his mind Thursday -- was given more publicity in the Russian media, because Avangard has been one of the league's high-profile franchises and Jaromir Jagr's former team.
Now Dinamo has signed San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, a native of Plover, Wis.
Maybe, the floodgates will open after all.
GIROUX SAYS "NYET"
For the past two weeks, KHL clubs and Russian media plugged the "inevitable" signing of Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux. He was rumoured to be going one of several of the league's richest clubs, including CSKA and SKA, before they exceeded their league-imposed limits on locked-out NHLers. Jagr was quoted as saying he strongly recommended to Giroux that he sign in Omsk. Evgeni Malkin's agent claimed to be representing Giroux's (and several other high profile NHLers') interests in Russia.
This week, however, Giroux put an end to the speculation by signing with Eisbaren Berlin of the German league DEL. With other NHLers such as Jason Spezza, Rick Nash and Daniel Briere choosing comfortable refuge in Western Europe, it becomes less likely that we will see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in Russia.
SEMIN TO GET PAID?
Carolina Hurricanes forward Alexander Semin raised a lot of brows and sparked some applause with his decision to play in his hometown city of Krasnoyarsk without drawing any salary. The local team, Sokol, plays in the VHL, the KHL's top farm league, and Semin's first appearance for the Falcons quickly sold out the 2,600-seat arena. However, it would appear the star forward's mission of charity might be short-lived. According to numerous reports Semin was close to signing a KHL deal, and the president of Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod even announced that his team that "achieved positive results" in the negotiations. Earlier, Torpedo announced the signing of New Jersey Devils defenceman Anton Volchenkov.
YAKUPOV ON THE MARK
Nail Yakupov scored two goals in his first game after Hockey Canada and the Sarnia Sting removed objections over his playing in the KHL during the lockout. Visiting SKA St. Petersburg with Neftekhimik (a perennial KHL also-ran), Yakupov outplayed Ilya Kovalchuk. His two goals included a game-tying goal in the third period. To top it off, Yakupov became the star of a long shootout session, which ran 15 rounds. In the KHL, shooters are allowed to take multiple attempts and Yakupov took four. His first two were turned away by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but he connected on the last two, including the game-winner in the 15th round.