Head of Russia’s pro hockey league says NHL would be ‘crazy’ to pass on Sochi Olympics

By John Wawrow, AP
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Russian hockey league head wants NHL at Sochi

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The NHL “would be crazy” to skip the 2014 Sochi Games, the head of Russia’s pro hockey league said Thursday.

Alex Medvedev said the popularity of men’s hockey at the Vancouver Games shows that having the world’s top players compete is the best way to support the sport globally.

The NHL has yet to commit to the 2014 Games. Medvedev said he has met three times in Vancouver with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and plans to meet with him again before the Olympics end.

Bettman is concerned about shutting down the NHL season during the Olympics. He also has doubts about an Olympics in which the hockey would be played at a time when many North American fans would be asleep.

The NHL also is unhappy at ceding control of its players to the IOC and being barred from using Olympic highlights on its Web site.

Medvedev, president of the Kontinental Hockey League, said his players will compete in Sochi. He added that he and Bettman are on the same page regarding Olympic marketing rules and the broadcast times for hockey games.

Medvedev spoke a day after the Russian men’s hockey team — featuring nine KHL players — was eliminated from the tournament with a 7-3 loss to Canada in the quarterfinals.

“I would not characterize the game as the best game of the century, not because we lost, but because it was an obvious domination of one team,” Medvedev said. “Objectively, Canada was a stronger team.”

Medvedev, at a gathering with several reporters, said he hopes the two leagues can together lobby the International Olympic Committee to satisfy their concerns.

“We have a lot in common,” Medvedev said.

He later told The Associated Press he would be unhappy if the NHL skipped Sochi after allowing its players to compete at the Winter Olympics since 1998.

“It was not easy to come to the Olympic family,” said Medvedev, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation council. “But it would be crazy in my mind to step out of the Olympic family.”

IOC president Jacques Rogge remains optimistic. He says the games serve as the best promotion for the league and sport.

“We still have plenty of time to find a solution,” he said.

Rene Fasel, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, added: “It would be wrong for the game, for the fans, not having the best players in Sochi.”

Fasel dismissed concerns by the NHL and KHL about any marketing problems.

“We are not here to promote the NHL, we are not here to promote the IIHF,” he said. “We are not here to promote anything than just the hockey game: That’s our mission.”

One sticking issue between the NHL and KHL remains the lack of a formal transfer agreement in which the NHL would provide financial compensation to the KHL for signing its players. Currently, the two leagues abide by a “gentleman’s agreement” to not sign players still under contract.

Medvedev hopes a deal can be reached within three months. The KHL has made inroads in attracting NHL players, notably signing free agent Jaromir Jagr to a two-year contract two years ago.

Though losing Jagr was a setback for the NHL, a bigger blow would be losing New Jersey Devils star forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who is eligible to become a free agent this summer. Medvedev said a few KHL teams have a strong interest in him.

“We would be happy if Kovalchuk will decide to go back to Russia, and I believe we can provide him a competitive proposal,” Medvedev said.

Both leagues operate under a salary cap, although the KHL has a provision that allows it to sign one player whose contract is exempt from the cap. KHL teams have the benefit of offering tax-free contracts.

Medvedev established the KHL two years ago after Russia’s former Super League folded. He wants to expand the league across the continent and form a league to rival the NHL. The KHL already has teams in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia. The Swedish Hockey Federation this week barred one of its pro teams, AIK, from joining the Russian league.

“I can’t agree that if this club will go to KHL that it will negatively influence the development of hockey in Sweden,” Medvedev said. “My opinion is absolutely the opposite.”

Medvedev also criticized the Russian Hockey Federation and its treatment of KHL players at the Olympics. Medvedev said KHL players had no funding and had difficulty getting visas and making arrangements for wives and girlfriends to travel to Vancouver.

“I regret that instead of waiting for the Russian Hockey Federation would fix it, the KHL was not in a position to fix it for itself,” he said. “We relied too much on the Russian Hockey Federation.”

AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson contributed to this report.

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