NHL lockout forcing top players to Russian league

NHL lockout forcing top players to Russian league

MOSCOW - Reuters
NHL lockout forcing top players to Russian league

Ilya Kovalchuk becomes the latest high-profile hockey player to join a Russian league side during the NHL lockout. The Russian star joins SKA St Petersburg. AFP photo

Russia’s Ilya Kovalchuk became the latest high-profile player to join the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) by signing with big spenders SKA St. Petersburg yesterday on the heels of a National Hockey League lockout.

The Russian club did not disclose contract details, only saying on their website (www.ska.ru) that the forward for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils would wear the number 17 jersey.

Kovalchuk, 29, joins NHL Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and former All-Star defenceman Sergei Gonchar of the Ottawa Senators, who both signed for KHL rivals Metallurg Magnitogorsk on Sept. 16, in the Russian league.

The exodus of top NHL talent to Russia is widely expected to continue since the North American league imposed a league-wide lockout after failing to reach a new collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union over the weekend.

The ambitious KHL, formed three years ago with the help of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has jumped at the chance to recruit some of the world’s best players, hoping it would help the fast-growing league emerge from the shadows of the NHL. Likewise, most Russian players are quick to take advantage of the work-stoppage in the NHL and sign lucrative deals with wealthy KHL clubs.

Kovalchuk, who inked a record 15-year, $100 million contract with New Jersey in 2010, was expected to make close to $8 million in St. Petersburg if he plays the full season for SKA.

Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin is mulling a similar offer from his former club Dynamo Moscow or an even bigger one from rich city rivals CSKA, backed by the state-owned oil company Rosneft.