NHL rebuffs Russian league request for late prospect's medical records

Updated: November 9, 2008, 6:57 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

TORONTO -- The head of the fledgling Continental Hockey League is accusing the NHL of stonewalling on providing medical information on New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov, who died during a KHL game last month.

Alexander Medvedev, one of the most powerful men in Russian hockey, told ESPN.com that he believes the NHL and the KHL can work together to establish procedures to make sure young hockey players are thoroughly tested and to ensure there aren't more tragic incidents like the one that befell Cherepanov.

[+] EnlargeAlexei Cherepanov
Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesThe NHL said Alexei Cherepanov's medical records can't be released without family authorization.
"This is one of the areas were we could really cooperate with the NHL," Medvedev said. "And by the way, we are really surprised that in spite of our double inquiry to provide us with results of Cherepanov's health check during his stay in the New York Rangers' camp, we are not getting it. What's the reason not provide it?

"If he was not healthy enough then it's one story. If he was healthy it's another story," the Russian hockey czar said.

Deputy NHL commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN.com they can't release the medical information without permission from Cherepanov's family, and that has not been forthcoming.

"We have no legal ability to release them without authorization from the player's family," Daly said in an e-mail. "We've asked twice. They have ignored us."

The medical records are merely the latest bone of contention to crop up between the NHL and the KHL as the new league tries to flex its muscles in Europe by luring players, sometimes under contract with NHL teams, to Russia.

Cherepanov, playing for Avangard Omsk, collapsed on the bench during a game in a Moscow suburb a month ago. The 17th overall pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft could not be revived and died a short time later. It's believed he suffered from some sort of pre-existing heart abnormality.

In the aftermath of the death it was revealed there was a host of problems connected to medical procedures at the rink. The KHL has moved to implement sweeping changes to medical protocol at its arenas and testing its players, beginning with comprehensive screens of young players.

"We are in the first season of Continental Hockey League but we are not in the first year of Russian and Soviet hockey," Medvedev said after arriving in Toronto for the Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremonies Monday night. "So we have great history behind us, we have a lot of good things in the past, but also we have a lot to do in the future and it's quite obvious we can't do everything in one year."

Medvedev was primarily here for the induction of Russian hockey icon Igor Larionov, who is advising the KHL on a number of matters.

Daly

The KHL seems to have an organi-
zational resistance or inability to respond to correspondence.

-- Deputy NHL commissioner
Bill Daly

Medvedev pointed to the higher level of play during the league's first season compared to the former Russian elite league.

"We have more good players both from Russia and from outside including North America," he said. "That's why we're sure we're on the right track. Obviously we're facing different challenges and even tragic events with the death of Cherepanov."

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reported earlier this week the Russian state police are expected to release the findings of their investigation into the death later this week.

The KHL and Medvedev have also been at odds with the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation over the lack of a transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL. There have also been thorny issues of respecting players under contract both in Russia and the NHL.

The Russians have long complained players who are under contract to teams in the old Russian elite league, the predecessor to the KHL, would bolt for NHL teams without penalty.

Similarly, since the inception of the KHL, there have been a number of players who have signed lucrative deals to play in Russia despite being under contract to NHL clubs. Most noteworthy of these players is talented former Nashville forward Alexander Radulov.

The NHL recently filed a grievance against Radulov on behalf of the Predators. The NHL is seeking damages for breach of contract.

Recently, Montreal prospect Pavel Valentenko signed with a KHL team even though he is under contract with the Canadiens.

Medvedev said Valentenko was previously under contract to a Russian club and was returning to the club that had his original rights.

[+] EnlargeAlexei Cherepanov
Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty ImagesAlexei Cherepanov, sitting during the 2007 World Junior Championships, collapsed on the bench during a game in Russia last month and couldn't be revived.
Carolina Hurricanes forward Matt Murley, who had been sent to the team's AHL team in A lbany, has also left North America to play in Russia.

Medvedev said since the player was not playing for the parent club he was cleared to play in the KHL.

He said if Carolina wanted to call Murley up to the NHL they would release him to do so.

"Yes, we told them that," Medvedev said. "We appreciate that Carolina has rights for him and if he will be called to the first team we will let him go," Medvedev said.

Although the relationship between Medvedev and the NHL remains frosty, he said he hopes the two sides can work out a transfer agreement.

No talks are scheduled with commissioner Gary Bettman or Daly during Medvedev's visit, but he said he hopes for some informal talks while he's in Canada.

As for dialogue between the two sides, Daly said the KHL routinely ignores requests for meetings and information that might bring the two sides closer together.

"The KHL seems to have an organizational resistance or inability to respond to correspondence," Daly said.

That relates to "a host of communications across a number of subjects, primarily related to Radulov and agreement to respect contracts. I know the IIHF has had a similar difficulty in getting the KHL to respond," Daly said.

Medvedev believes if the two sides can put aside their differences the game itself will be better for it.

"We would like to take all the best which we see in NHL and not just to take it but to make it jointly. And I do hope that in spite of some differences in treatment of certain things we will find a way to work together because cooperative model is much more preferable than conflicting model," Medvedev said.

"I do hope that the NHL will understand that it will be bad for them not to cooperate with us," he said.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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