Elliotte Friedman's notes on KHL, Russia

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filatov.jpgI was going to spotlight Elliotte Friedman’s observations about Russian hockey in the previous quick hits post, but frankly, it’s so awesome that I deemed it worthy of its own post. Friedman traveled to the KHL hub for the CBC and came back with plenty of interesting observations. I’ll try to condense it down to some of my favorite tidbits, but it’s absolutely worth a readSeriously.

Money matters

Us bitter scrappy writer types always like to linger on dollars and cents (some of us even had “follow the money” beaten into our heads by crusty journalism professors), but sometimes the bottom line is a no-brainer.

For one thing, NHL players lose a bunch of money in taxes and escrow accounts that they wouldn’t normally deal with (or deal with to less of an extent) if they played in the KHL. The highlight for me was the shady practices that encouraged winning and success.

4. Then, there’s the bonuses. Guys in St. Petersburg made $1,000 for every point the team recorded during the season. Final total: $122,000. It’s like that all over the league.

5. Two guys who used to play in Russia said it got even better when the envelopes/bags of money come out. One said after three wins in a row, everyone on the team was given a $10,000 cash bonus. Another said a teammate having a great year was given $75,000 in a bag. Players swear, though, there are no more bags/envelopes of cash being handed out.

Quality of play, strange differences

Friedman essentially said that if you took the names and logos off of the jerseys, you’d think that you were watching an NHL-quality game. Although there’s more clutching and grabbing, the games are aggressive and the KHL is “a real skater’s league.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean it lacks some idiosyncratic tendencies.

Strangest hockey phenomenon I saw: teams practice after they get eliminated from the playoffs, because players are paid through April. This does not go over well. I was standing by the bench as practice ended. Two English-speaking players walked off. One said, “How many days of this are left?” The other said, “43.” You know it’s bad when they’re counting.

Former players

He ran into some former players and players who are seemingly on temporary leave. For instance, he discussed the fact that while Alexei Yashin was interested in going back to the NHL, he wasn’t going to do so for the league minimum. There’s also the indication that Alex Radulov and Nikita Filatov would like to come back to North America in the future.

Finally, some funny notes

I’ll leave you with a handful of other funny anecdotes and notes from the piece which, again, you really should read in its entirety.

“Every time sometimes tells me, “Man, traffic is terrible in (insert city here),” it’s always an exaggeration. People always make it sound worse than it actually is. So I didn’t listen when warned about Moscow. But it was brutal. If I had to drive there, I’d be homicidal.”

“Never, ever, ever try to out-drink a Russian, especially when vodka is involved.”

“I met a junior teammate of Alexander Ovechkin’s. He said those who knew him then can’t believe how much of a hitter he’s become. “He never used to touch anyone,” the guy said, laughing.”

Video: Chris Kreider doesn’t just fight Cody Eakin, he hits him with his helmet

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Tuesday’s Dallas Stars – New York Rangers almost seemed destined to be a wild affair, and so far, the two teams aren’t disappointing.

For one thing, Chris Kreider and the Rangers were open about “not forgetting” Cody Eakin‘s hit on Henrik Lundqvist, something Eakin realized heading in. The Stars had their own irritations coming into this game, as they clearly weren’t happy with their loss to the Buffalo Sabres and their shaky play overall.

So, yeah, plenty of reason for this to be a rowdy affair.

Kreider is delivering in particular, with the most memorable moment being his strange fight with Eakin, which you can see above. SBNation’s Pat Iversen points out that Kreider probably should have been ejected for hitting Eakin with a piece of his equipment, a violation of Rule 53.

As many know, Kreider has even more of a reputation for “interacting” with goalies, as he did once again with Antti Niemi:

The Stars currently lead the game 5-3, so it’s been a busy one on the scoreboard, too.

Video: Maple Leafs lose Morgan Rielly after fall into boards

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Down 2-0 to the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs are off to a shaky start on Tuesday. Still, their concerns likely revolve the most around the health of defenseman Morgan Rielly.

As you can see from the video above, the young Buds blueliner was shaken up by an awkward spill into the boards.

It’s too early to know if he avoided injury or might miss some time, but there’s at least some concern that he might have aggravated an issue from before his NHL days:

We’ll need to wait and see, but with his offensive skills and overall importance in mind (average just under 23 minutes a game this season, more or less in line with his breakthrough year in 2015-16), the Maple Leafs are crossing their fingers that this isn’t anything major.

WATCH LIVE: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 23:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks controls the puck as he turns against Tyson Barrie #4 of the Colorado Avalanche at the United Center on December 23, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Avalanche defeated the Blackhawks 2-1 in overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Chicago Blackhawks need to put a tough weekend behind them; maybe the Colorado Avalanche are just what the doctor ordered.

Colorado is clearly ranked last in the league, whether they believe they have some assets in the likes of Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog or not. Perhaps there will be a few scouts on hand to see how such potential Avs trade targets perform against a contending team?

It’s rarely a dull night when the Blackhawks roll out talented players like Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin and Jonathan Toews – among others – so it should be a good time on NBCSN on Tuesday.

You can watch online or via the NBC Sports App. Click here for the livestream link.

Short-lived return? No Tyler Ennis for Sabres tonight

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 25:  Tyler Ennis #63 of the Buffalo Sabres takes a shot on goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period at Wells Fargo Center on October 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Tyler Ennis‘ return to the Buffalo Sabres lineup on Monday after a 30-game absence seemed like a breath of fresh air. Tuesday, then, represents letting the air out of the balloon.

The Sabres announced that Ennis wasn’t out for warm-ups heading into tonight’s Sabres – Toronto Maple Leafs game. It certainly gives the impression that his groin injury isn’t fully healed.

Ennis contributed a goal to Buffalo’s 4-1 win against the Dallas Stars on Monday and nearly scored another in “lacrosse” style:

When healthy, he’s been a 20-goal, 40+ point player for Buffalo lately, so he was missed. The team tweeted out Ryan O'Reilly‘s comments about Ennis’ return mere hours ago, so you get the impression that it was a surprise for many:

Maybe it’s just a minor setback?

Update: The Sabres deem it a “precautionary scratch,” according to John Vogl of the Buffalo News. So maybe file this under minor setback. We’ll see.