Why? Well, in the last five months alone we’ve seen a number of prolific KHLers hop the pond: Evgeni Kuznetsov and Jori Lehtera finally joined the Caps and Blues, Leo Komarov re-joined the Leafs (followed by Petri Kontiola, who also inked in Toronto) and Jiri Sekac signed with Montreal.
It was a pretty big influx of talent, highlighted by Lehtera — the KHL’s ninth-leading scorer last year — and the reasoning behind the moves, according to Blues GM Doug Armstrong, was simple: These guys wanted to play against the best.
“I think that players all know that the NHL is the best league; it’s got the best players,” Armstrong explained to Sportsnet. “You can make good money in the KHL but if you want to compete against the best you have to be in the NHL.”
With that in mind, what other players could be on their way over to North America in the future? A few suggestions throw your way:
Still property of the Winnipeg Jets, Burmistrov — 21st in the KHL last year with 38 points — has been the subject of rumors claiming he’s eying a return to North America… but is being held up by the remaining time on his contract with Ak Bars Kazan.
From the Winnipeg Sun’s report at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft:
There were some rumblings that Alex Burmistrov’s name was in play, but a source said the fact it was unclear if he could get out of his KHL contract with Ak Bars Kazan is a stumbling block to a potential deal.
Still only 22 years old, Burmistrov already has a ton of NHL experience (194 games; he debuted shortly after being the eighth overall pick in 2010) and would probably slide back into an NHL lineup easily, should he choose to return. The Jets retain his North American rights but it’s safe to assume a trade might be in order after his falling out with the club (granted, a percentage of his beef stemmed from a bad relationship with ex-head coach Claude Noel.)
A bit of a late bloomer, Salminen, 26, spent the early parts of his professional career with Assat of the SM-liiga before making the leap with KalPa in 2010-11. He saw his goal totals climb from 12 to 24 to 26 before KHL club Torpedo jumped in with a contract offer — last year, his first in the KHL, Salminen had a very productive campaign by 48 points in 54 games, sixth-most in the league.
Given all the interest in Finnish players like Kontiola, Komarov and Lehtera following the Sochi Olympics (where they won bronze), it wouldn’t be surprising to see Salminen — who replaced Valtteri Filppula on the roster for Sochi — get some interest as well.
Per Elite Prospects, Salminen is under contract with Torpedo through ’14-15.
Rumors of a Kovalchuk return to the NHL were so prevalent this summer that Randy Miller of NJ.com wrote an entire piece rebuking the rumblings:
Here’s what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to say last summer after Kovalchuk retired from the Devils with 12 years and $77 million on his contract, and then went home to Russia and signed a four-year contract with the Kontinental Hockey League:
1. Unless Kovalchuk sits out a full season of professional hockey anywhere in the world, he cannot return to the NHL without consent from all 30 franchises until 2018-19.
2. If Kovalchuk sits out a full season of pro hockey, he can only return with the Devils’ consent until 2018-19.
3. Beginning in 2018-19, Kovalchuk will be 35, removed from the league’s voluntary retirement list and free to sign with any NHL team as a free agent.
In an email to the New York Post, Daly wrote Kovalchuk returning to the NHL “would require unanimous consent at any point at which the player tries to return to the League without having been out of professional hockey [anywhere in the world] for a full calendar year. Once he sits out for a full calendar year, he can only come back with the Devils’ consent.”
So, Kovalchuk playing for the 2014-15 Devils seems impossible because there is no chance all 30 teams give consent.
This one seems doubtful unless Kovalchuk is willing to come back at the start of the ’18 season. You can put it on the backburner, though!
Of all the North American ex-NHLers currently plying their trade in Russia, Boyd has perhaps the most complete resume (220 games) and youth (27 years old) to make a comeback. He had a solid year for Barys Astana in ’13-14, scoring 38 points in 49 games, and also has a couple of quality NHL seasons on his resume — specifically, an 11-goal, 22-point effort with Calgary in 2008-09.
Boyd is under contract with Barys Astana until the end of 2015, per reports.