NHLers not Russian to endorse new pro league

MIKE ZEISBERGER

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

MONTREAL -- If a proposed European-based pro hockey league waved a fistful of euros in the face of Maple Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky, he likely would decline the offer.

"I want to play over here," said Ponikarovsky, whose home town of Kiev, Ukraine, is a potential site to host a team. "It's not my goal to go back to Russia.

"All the best players are here. The level of hockey (there) would be lower."

With former NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow and ex-Russian star Igor Larionov reportedly helping Russian moneybags Alex Medvedev set up the league, the endeavour, at least on the surface, might have teeth.

Yet reaction among both players and coaches concerning the idea seemed to be mixed at the Bell Centre yesterday after the Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens had completed their morning skates.

"I don't think such a thing would be good for the NHL because you would lose good young guys," Habs coach Guy Carbonneau said.

"We've already seen guys like Alexander Perezhogin and Alexei Yashin go to the (Russian elite league). I think it would be a threat, and I'm sure the (NHL) is aware of that."

Asked via e-mail if, in fact, the NHL would consider such an enterprise as a "threat," league deputy commissioner Bill Daly said simply: "Nope."

Leafs captain Mats Sundin agreed with Daly and considered other factors.

"Even if there was another league, hockey is a small sport (on a global scale)," Sundin said.

"It's big in Canada, parts of Europe, the U.S., Scandinavia and places like the Czech Republic and Russia but after that, there's not much. I don't see it as a threat."

Of course, given the restrictions that go hand-in-hand with salary cap format, some teams might not be able to match potential lucrative offers for player from a fledgling league. Remember the WHA?

"I hadn't heard about it but obviously a league like that, salary-wise, would be better for the players," Leafs player rep Matt Stajan said.

"There would be more jobs open too, so it would be a good thing. For me, though, my dream was always to play in the NHL."

Czech-born defencemen Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina both said hockey-loving kids in their native country still would strive to make the NHL, even with a pro league closer to home.

Carbonneau, meanwhile, does not believe the NHL will expand to Europe because of travel problems.

"Our travel is bad enough right now," Carbonneau said.


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