The Russian Solution

Jonathan Willis
September 28 2012 09:20AM

Every so often, there’s a problem KHL teams face: they need to hire the services of somebody who has agreed to work somewhere else. That person can be a player or a coach, and listening to Dave King explain how he became a coach of a Russian team shows how the league typically handles such problems.

Dave King’s a highly respected coach – he’s presently with the Phoenix Coyotes and has previously worked for the Flames, Canadiens, Blue Jackets, the Canadian National Team and overseas.

In the summer of 2005, King signed on to be head coach of IFK Helsinki in Finland’s top league. Shortly thereafter, a Russian club – Magnitogorsk Metallurg, currently coached by Paul Maurice – found that a deal to add a different North American coach had fallen through. Would King be interested in working for them?

From King’s excellent book, King of Russia:

The IFK were reluctant to make a change; in fact, I wasn’t sure if they’d go for it at all. So when I told [G.M. Gennady] Velichkin of IFK’s position, he called my agent, the two spoke and then Velichkin handed me the phone. Apparently, the Russians were prepared to do what they always do – throw money at the problem. Velichkin offered to pay IFK a generous fee to release me from my contract and asked that I communicate that proposal to [IFK President Harri] Tuomo. That, apparently, made the difference. Harri wasn’t very happy, but he understood that at this stage of my career it was probably a chance that would never come again. He said he didn’t want to hire a reluctant coach, but he also said that they’d be seeking further monetary compensation if possible. Nowadays, everyone in hockey seems to think the Russians have deep pockets.

It’s a story that goes through my mind every time I hear about some contract problem or some transfer problem involving a KHL club.

Ultimately, King was bought out of his contract with Helsinki by Magnitogorsk, and did end up coaching a pretty successful team in Russia. King coached where he wanted to, Magnitogorsk got the coach they wanted, and Helsinki got some money for the trouble of finding a replacement. Everybody won.

Interestingly, though, King points out one of the problems with Russian teams throwing money at their problems. As he says, “everyone in hockey seems to think the Russians have deep pockets.” It’s not difficult to imagine a situation where a team that might otherwise just release a coach or player might fight with its Russian counterpart in the hopes of landing a cash reward.

And on that note, why isn't Nail Yakupov playing in the KHL? Supposedly because the Sarnia Sting are demanding a payment in exchange for releasing his rights.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 embee
September 28 2012, 09:24AM
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Fisted sister is my favourite band

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#2 AutoOiler
September 28 2012, 02:00PM
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The KHL is in a prime position to expand. Think of it this way it is a growing league that has just been handed the keys to expansion. Talent and Audience. North America awaits the programing of our Russian masters. Bring on the north americian division of the KHL.

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#3 Reg Dunlop
September 28 2012, 11:13AM
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If I understand the KHL correctly I don't see how anyone could see how they could be viewed as having deep pockets. Salary cap is about $30 million and attendance at games averages about half that of a NHL team. As far as TV revenue goes, do they have TV in Russia? Rumor has it that KHL games may appear on TV here in Canada. Maybe they will use those Soviet mini-cams from SCTV. I would like to see if they have plexiglass on the boards or if they still have chicken-wire.

As far as the league as an alternative to the NHL, maybe for homegrown players and second tier Euros. Certainly not for Canadian players.

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#4 Sean
September 28 2012, 02:25PM
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Sigh... Just let him play, what happened to the best interest of the player? Tsk.

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#5 RexLibris
September 28 2012, 03:23PM
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I think part of the reason that KHL owners are deemed to have deep pockets is because they are all lumped together with the kleptocra-er, sorry, oligarchs that own many of the major teams. Just as fifty or sixty years ago it was common knowledge in the rest of the world that every American was rich.

As for the KHL/Yakupov issue (as referenced in your EJ article, Jonathan) I guess we can look on the bright side (positive Friday, after all) that this issue only circumstantially involves an Oilers prospect. He isn't making waves himself, and this doesn't appear to be a screw up by the team itself, instead it is a squabble between all the other, external layers of bureaucracy.

Just another reason to add to the growing "stigma" about drafting Russian players, even into the CHL. Only this time it is a Canadian franchise doing the damage.

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#6 Quicksilver ballet
September 28 2012, 06:26PM
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With no end in sight to the lockout, wonder if the KHL would expand to North America next year.

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