by PuckStopsHere on 07/08/10 at 10:51 AM ET
Yesterday it was announced that Evgeni Nabokov signed a four year contract with SKA St Petersburg in the KHL. Nabokov is a good NHL goalie. He was named to the First Team All Star in 2008. He is better than many goalies who are employed in the NHL, including many starters. He is a better goalie than either of the pair his former NHL team, the San Jose Sharks intend to use next year. There should be little controversy in claiming he is a better goalie than Antero Niittymaki or Thomas Greiss.
If Nabokov is such a good goalie why was he pushed out of the NHL? Largely it comes down to a finite number of NHL jobs available. The salary cap has forced teams to economize in some positions and the prime goaltending jobs filled up with players who will be paid less than the price Nabokov demanded (and deserved based on his past history). When jobs began to be filled and Nabokov saw other big name goalies in Marty Turco and Jose Theodore remaining unemployed as well, he opted to return to his homeland to play in the KHL.
It is the salary cap that forces players out of the NHL. Basic economics demands it. If player salaries are held down artificially through a salary cap in the NHL, some players will not accept it. They will find that they can command larger salaries outside the NHL’s restrictions and they are abandoning the league to get them. Nabokov is the highest profile player to depart since Jaromir Jagr did two years ago.
Looking at the available unsigned unrestricted free agents there are several other candidates among the available Russians who may follow Nabokov. These include Slava Kozlov, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Alexander Frolov and possibly Ilya Kovalchuk. There are many more candidates among Europeans who would be returning to their home continent to play in the KHL. Candidates here include Pavol Demitra, Fredrik Modin, Marek Svatos, Petr Sykora and others. In fact, North Americans may wind up going to the KHL. The experienced, but unemployed, goaltenders Marty Turco and Jose Theodore might be candidates.
Sure the KHL also sends players to the NHL. It looks like Nikolai Zherdev might sign in Philadelphia and Nikita Filatov is returning to Columbus, but the majority of the player flow is going toward Russia and the players going are not insignificant.
Logically, if the NHL is being challenged for global supremacy in hockey, it would not make sense to have rules that push players toward the competition. Logic doesn’t often hold in the NHL’s rules. The salary cap in the NHL has direct benefit to the KHL. It forces players out of the NHL who are not getting their salary demands met in North America. The KHL can afford to give these players more money and a bigger role on their team than the NHL does. This helps to stock the KHL with top talent and it reduces the available NHL talent pool. I think that eventually this pressure could be the biggest reason the NHL’s salary cap structure is changed.
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