Saturday, December 8, 2007

Getting and keeping Europeans will likely get harder

The transfer of European players to NHL organizations has long been governed by the IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) agreement, which stipulated a set amount of money an NHL had to pay a European club to sign a player under contract there. Russia quite loudly failed to ratify it again in 2005, wanting more money per player (which led to a drop in the number of Russian players taken in the NHL draft). They were able to stay outside the agreement because the high salaries in the Super League were enough to entice players to either stay or come back.

Well, now more countries are joining Russia. Sweden has just voted to extricate itself from the agreement. Finland may follow this week.

Complicating the matter is the Canadian Hockey League, Canada's junior system. They got their wish in the NHL's last CBA that Europeans be under the same rules as their drafted juniors when it comes to signing NHL contracts -- a two-year window. This window is much shorter than it used to be for Europeans, and has led to more cases of young players being taken out of European elite leagues and put into the North American minor leagues. This infuriates the European leagues, but the CHL is happy because it thinks more Canadians will be drafted instead. And they're right -- that effect has happened.

It's a really sticky situation, one that has gotten more and more pointed in the last few years. I question whether getting out of the agreement will work for Sweden and Finland though, because without hockey salaries that can compete with the NHL, players will just leave without a transfer payment and then the country is worse off.

Here's an article with further information.

Sweden’s hockey federation voted last night to formally sever ties to the IIHF agreement. Finnish Ice Hockey Federation managing director Heikki Hietanen says a similar discussion will take place Wednesday in Helsinki. ...

It’s troubling news for the NHL because free agency in countries like Russia, particularly, could prove elusive.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see every young NHL-calibre player basically forced to sign a long-term contract and never win the right to free agency,” says one NHL player agent with several Russian clients.

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