|Bryzgalov says some NHL players will opt to stay in the KHL. (US Presswire)|
Here we go again -- another locked-out NHL player is threatening that some of the guys who went to the KHL won't be coming back.
We heard this threat from Alex Ovechkin a few weeks back. The Capitals star winger said if salaries are rolled back, he might just stay in Russia. Now Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is thinking -- or at least talking -- along the same lines.
Bryzgalov, who is playing for CSKA Moscow during the lockout, sees some players not returning to North America. Unlike Ovechkin, Bryzgalov didn't include himself in that group. But the point remains the same; it's more or less a threat to NHL owners. Here's what Bryzgalov said to TSN:
"I think some of the players may not return to the NHL because you have everything here and major companies are going to pay the top players here big money. And, especially for Russians players who can play at home in front of their own fans and families and [earn] even bigger money than they have in the National Hockey League," said Bryzgalov.
"The KHL can't feed all the players, but for some big players -- especially those with Russian passports -- it might be a threat."
If you want to see all of Bryzgalov's comments -- literally, it's a video -- you can see them here. It's worth it just to see Bryzgalov's awesome handlebar mustache.
At this point, it can be seen as nothing more than an idle threat. The only way the NHL has to worry about losing players to the KHL is through free agency. Guys like Ovechkin, Bryzgalov, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk, for example, have long-term contracts with NHL teams. Whenever the lockout is resolved, they will be coming back to fulfill those.
How do we know this? Because the NHL and KHL have an agreement to respect each other's contracts, remember? Even if teams in the KHL wanted to, they couldn't keep players under NHL contract around. The only players who will be sticking around in the KHL are the ones who go there as free agents.
We've been hearing for years that the KHL is going to be some great competitor for the NHL when it comes to landing players. It's just not happening, and it probably won't. Even with the lockout, it's not like North American-born players are rushing to the KHL. Only a handful have made that decision. On the Russia side, it's not a worry until young prospects such as Nail Yakupov decide to stay in Europe rather than come to North America. That's not happening, either, at least enough to cause a significant threat.
For every Alexander Radulov, there are a lot more guys like Alexander Semin, who would rather stay and play in North America full-time. Does anybody think Semin couldn't have had a better deal than the one that he eventually signed in Carolina, for just one season?
Fact remains this is the KHL's greatest opportunity yet to make inroads in truly competing with the NHL. The problem is once the lockout is over, the only players who will even get the chance to stay in Europe are those without contracts back in North America.
Players such as Bryzgalov are trying to make it clear to the owners that they have options and the lack of NHL hockey is no sweat off their backs. It's an attempt to gain some leverage for the players' cause, but really it's transparently toothless.
The biggest concern for teams who have under-contract players in the KHL isn't that they won't come back; it's that they will get hurt. More posturing isn't going to change that.