In KHL, rules are made to be bent
SLAVA MALAMUD, Special to QMI Agency
|SKA St. Petersburg's Ilya Kovalchuk (R) celebrates with team mates a goal against Dynamo Moscow during their Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game in Moscow September 23, 2012. (REUTERS)
For all its attempts (often successful ones) to mimic its North American counterpart, the KHL's business model, in many respects, operates in a completely different universe from the NHL's.
Where NHL owners talk about hockey-related revenues, profit margins and profitability, all of these concepts are pretty foreign to Russian hockey. Every single Russia-based club in the KHL operates in the red and concerns such as politics, national-team interests and "social value to the region" take the front seat. But even when the league tries to do business within a more or less normal capitalistic model, things quite foreign to it often muck up the works.
Take the MegaFon Patch Scandal which has rocked the KHL, for example.
KHL's teams, like those all over Europe, wear ad patches on their uniforms, although Russian jerseys don't normally look as cluttered as those in Switzerland or Finland. And now, those of CSKA Moscow look less cluttered still, as the legendary club has decided to get rid of bright green patches advertising MegaFon, one of Russia's top mobile phone providers.
This has created quite a stir within the league, which has had a sponsorship agreement with MegaFon from the very first KHL season. All the clubs are contractually obligated to wear MegaFon patches on the elbows and pant legs, a rule which maddens many fans, especially of those clubs whose colours clash with the company's green ads.
But even though CSKA's iconic red-blue sweaters were among those most severely affected by the colour clash, the decision to remove the patches had nothing to do with esthetics. CSKA was purchased by Rosneft, one of Russia's biggest oil companies, last season. This purchase came with a huge flow of cash into the club's budget, which explains the off-season acquisition of Alexander Radulov and the lockout deals with Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov.
But Rosneft reportedly has a partnership agreement with MTS, MegaFon's direct competitor on the Russian cellular market. This apparently was the reason behind the patches' removal. CSKA's uniform now features no fewer than five different patches with Rosneft's logo (which, being yellow and black, isn't much of an improvement in the esthetics department), but none with MegaFon's. That violates the rule which the KHL has been very strict to enforce in the past. The league, however, has been able to "resolve the issue internally," meaning CSKA has paid its way out of the contractual obligation.
To understand the issue more fully, it is worth knowing that Rosneft's president is none other than Igor Sechin, Russia's vice-premier and one of Vladimir Putin's closest advisers. Just another example of how some in the Russian league are more equal than others, rules and contracts be damned.
LUPUL TO THE URALS?
With North American NHLers few and far between in the Russian league, practically anyone deciding to come over becomes big news. Last week, it was Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul who was reported to be heading all the way to Yekaterinburg. Interestingly enough, Lupul doesn't quit fit the criteria set by KHL for locked out non-Russian NHLers earlier this season. He hasn't previously played in the KHL, he hasn't recorded 150 NHL games during the past three seasons, he has never played for the Canadian national team, never appeared in the Stanley Cup final and has never been a finalist of a major individual award.
But in Russia, as the local saying goes, the strictness of the rules is compensated by the lack of necessity to follow them. In this case, seeing that Lupul comes only seven games short of the 150-game requirement because of injuries and played in last year's NHL all-star game, he may be considered "high-profile enough." At least, for the likes of the last-place Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, the league's poorest and most underperforming franchise desperate for any help it can get.
If the KHL, as expected, waives its guidelines in this case, Lupul will become only the fourth North American NHLer to sign there. More importantly, he will be the only one to sign with a Russian team, thus having to qualify under the league's "foreigner guidelines." The other three, including Canadian Evander Kane, have signed with teams from Belarus and Kazakhstan, to whom the guidelines do not apply.
The number of saves made by Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov in a recent game for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. The netminder completely frustrated Nail Yakupov and his Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk teammates in yet another stellar performance. Varlamov he is widely recognized as the best goalie in the league right now, or at least the most valuable goaltending addition this season.
Varlamov is currently in the top five in goals-against average (1.94) and tied for second in save percentage (.942) despite facing 35 shots a game on average.
Not everyone has had such an easy time transitioning to the KHL game, however. Nashville Predators star Pekka Rinne had a terrible game against Metallurg Magnitogorsk, allowing two goals which would've made the league's "bloopers of the month" reel if it had one. And former Carolina Hurricane Mike Murphy, if Russian reports are to be believed, likely will be cut by Spartak Moscow after a dismal seven-game stint.