Native joining Russia's AK Bars Kazan

Updated: November 8, 2004, 7:49 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- Alexei Kovalev, Brad Richards and Nikolai Khabibulin became the latest NHL players to join a European team during the lockout, agreeing to play in Russia.

Alexei Kovalev

Since the lockout began, about 250 NHL players have headed to teams in Europe, about one-third of the league, according to the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Kovalev, Richards and Khabibulin all signed with Russia's AK Bars Kazan. Kovalev, an unrestricted free agent, also played in his native country during the 1994-95 lockout. Back then he joined Lada Togliatti.

"There doesn't seem to be any reason to believe the lockout will end so he just decided he wanted to play some hockey," Kovalev's agent, Scott Greenspun, said Monday.

Richards and Khabibulin helped the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup last season. Khabibulin was outstanding in goal, and Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.

Also, Jaromir Jagr of the New York Rangers is leaving the Czech league to play for the Russian club Omsk Avangard, the Czech daily newspaper Sport and The Canadian Press reported Monday. More than 50 Czech players, including stars Milan Hejduk, Patrik Elias and Tomas Vokoun, returned home during the lockout.

Kovalev had 45 points in 78 games with the Rangers and Montreal last season. In the playoffs, he had 10 points in 11 games, leading the Canadiens to a first-round upset of Boston.

Kovalev joins a Kazan lineup loaded with NHL talent. The team signed Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier last Thursday, Richards' friend and teammate. Lecavalier will report to Kazan on Nov. 23.

Kazan already has Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta, Nik Antropov of Toronto, Darius Kasparaitis of the New York Rangers, Ruslan Salei of Anaheim, Fred Brathwaite of Columbus, Denis Arkhipov of Nashville and Alexei Morozov of Pittsburgh.

Kazan, owned by an oil company and in the far east of Russia, is celebrating the 1,000-year anniversary of the Tatarstan republic. The team is intent on winning the Russian league in honor of the celebration.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press