Thursday, February 12, 2009
KHL president talks about Jagr, Emery and his beef with the NHL
The phone rings, and a man with the world's thickest Russian accent is ready to get right down to business.
"It is Alexander Medvedev. What questions do you have?"
We had arranged to interview the KHL president and Gazprom (a natural gas company) owner through a league spokesman. We thought the timing was right given the Jaromir Jagr rumors, the Ray Emery situation, the world economic crisis, the nose-diving Russian ruble, falling oil prices and, well, the KHL's survival.
An Edmonton Journal blog had the industry chirping Tuesday when it speculated the Oilers were taking another run at Jagr (they tried to sign him in July). The Oilers denied it. As we pointed out Tuesday, Jagr can't leave his Russian contract with Omsk Avangard; and besides, if he did somehow sign with the Oilers, he'd have to clear NHL waivers first.
"Mr. Jagr played today for Avangard," said Medvedev, who was in New York to take in the Capitals-Rangers game. "Legally, he has a contract. It would surprise me if it was really true that Edmonton tried to negotiate a deal with Mr. Jagr. I don't like those rumors. But Edmonton publicly announced it wasn't the case."
Besides, continued Medvedev, Jagr is signed for "two years plus one [option]."
"And there is no out clause [in the contract]," added Medvedev.
As we told you puckheads Wednesday night, Emery ended his weeklong holdout and reported back to Mytishchi Atlant on Wednesday. Mind you, Emery and his agent J.P. Barry will continue to try to get what they consider their full payment on what the goalie is owed so far this season. They argue the Russian club has used the wrong exchange rate in doling out his U.S. dollars. The Russian ruble has been pounded in recent months, leading to this kind of situation with likely more than a few KHL clubs.
"He reported back today," Medvedev said of Emery. "It would be good if Mr. Emery settled his grievance with the club. But it's an internal matter of the club."
Despite the massive economic factors pounding his league, which is in its inaugural season, Medvedev said the board of directors recently approved some "anti-crisis" measures that would help ease the pain. He took offense when we asked him about his league's survival.
"We are not speaking about survival; we are speaking about development," he said.
His voice really got excited when we brought up his ongoing discord with the NHL, saying he hoped the NHL would not continue with "its line of arrogance and ignorance."
"I will not hide this frustration," he added.
Among his beefs with the NHL is the league's refusal at this point to commit to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. At this point, the NHL is booked only for 2010 in Vancouver, after which the league says it will consider whether or not to continue with player involvement. The NHL Players' Association has made it clear it definitely wants to continue taking part, but the players need team owners to be on board.
"I believe it would not only be anti-sport but antihuman to prevent the best players from the NHL from going to the Olympics," Medvedev said.
He believes the NHL is using the 2014 Olympics as bait in the backdrop of its current problems with the Russian hockey federation and the KHL.
"There should be no place for the blackmail of the Olympic Games," said Medvedev.
We can hardly blame the NHL on this one. The KHL poached Alexander Radulov; the Russians refuse to negotiate a new player-transfer agreement; and the NHL should just roll over and hand over 2014? Sorry, it doesn't work that way.
But we'll say this: Medvedev is an impressive guy. He's no-nonsense and he's not going to back down from the NHL.
The question is, will his KHL survive long enough to make in-roads against the NHL?