For the most part, Russian-born (and other European) stars tend to bolt for more lucrative contracts with the KHL. (Alex Radulov is the most convenient example.) Yet there is a smaller trend forming in the background: depth players – some even from North America – are beginning to view the KHL as viable option as well.
Ken Wiebe reports that (former) Winnipeg Jet Tim Stapleton has agreed in principle to a deal with the KHL’s Dinamo-Minsk. Stapleton had easily the best season of his young career in 2011-12, setting career-highs for goals (11), assists (16), points (27) and games played (63).
As mentioned earlier this off-season, Stapleton joins a lower-level exodus that also includes Mats Zuccarello, Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto and Curtis Sanford. Even former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice decided to give the upstart professional league a shot.
It’s not exactly the sort of raid that will leave NHL teams trembling, but it’s interesting to see marginal players get more bargaining power than they’ve likely ever enjoyed.
Since he’s on his way out of the league for at least a little while, I thought I’d leave you with this random AP photo where it looks like Jeff Skinner is giving him a “DDT.”
A smattering of minor transactions across the NHL…
— Renaud Lavoie of RDS reports the Nashville Predators have re-upped with UFA forward Brandon Yip.
Acquired off waivers from Colorado midway through last season, Yip endeared himself to head coach Barry Trotz and went on to appear in 25 games for the Preds (3G-4A-7PTS) and 10 playoff contests (1G-1A-2PTS).
Yip reportedly signed a one-way, one-year deal worth $750,000.
— The Minnesota Wild have lost yet another player to Europe: Cody Almond has signed with Geneve-Servette of the Swiss League. The move comes just weeks after Erik Christensen bolted Minnesota to join HC Lev of the KHL.
Almond, 22, was taken 140th overall by the Wild at the 2007 draft but had a difficult time cracking the the NHL. He played just 25 games with the Wild over the course of three seasons, spending most of his time with Houston of the AHL.
— Speaking of HC Lev (the only KHL team based in Prague), it appears Florida’s Michal Repik has agreed to terms with the club. The 23-year-old was taken 40th overall by Florida at the ’07 draft but, like Almond, had a difficult time sticking in the bigs.
His best year was in 2010-11 when he appeared in 31 games with the Panthers, scoring 2G-6A-8PTS.
The recent exodus of NHLers to Russia continued on Friday, but with a twist — this time, it’s a coach.
According to various reports, former Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs bench boss Paul Maurice has agreed to coach Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL. He’ll be joined by former ‘Canes goalie coach Tom Barasso, who was recently replaced in Carolina by Greg Stefan.
TSN’s Darren Dreger reports there may have been a European bidding war for Maurice’s services. ZSC Zurich — the team Bob Hartley left to take the head coaching job in Calgary — had expressed interest, but it appears Metallurg put together a superior offer (rumored to be a one-year, $2 million deal.)
Maurice — who took the ‘Canes to an Eastern Conference and Cup finals — is the second big coup for Metallurg in recent days. The team also inked former Rangers forward Mats Zuccarello, the fourth NHLers to move to Russia this June. The others are Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto and Curtis Sanford, with offers apparently being drawn up for Alex Semin and Alex Radulov.
According to Russian news outlet Sports.ru, SKA Saint Petersburg of the KHL is set to begin contract talks with Washington Capitals forward Alex Semin.
The former 40-goal scorer is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and has indicated his time in Washington is over. While reports have suggested Semin’s desire is to remain in the NHL, a recent interview with Sport-Express suggested playing in the KHL is also a viable option:
Question: “Is there any clarity on where your career will resume in the next season?”
Semin: “I can’t say anything concrete at this time. I’m waiting for July 1st, until the negotiations in the NHL open, for now I am unemployed.”
Question: “Are your priorities in Russia or North America?”
Semin: “I can’t answer. I don’t know.”
SKA general manager Alexei Kasatonov — who played nearly 400 games in the NHL with New Jersey, Anaheim, St. Louis and Boston — had previously told Sports-Express that his club plans to pursue Semin when the free agency window opens.
It’ll be interesting to see how negotiations play out. Recent days have seen a flurry of NHLers depart for the KHL — Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto, Curtis Sanford — though none with the star power and talent level of Semin, who has averaged 31 goals per season since the lockout.
Of note, SKA is home to a number of ex-NHLers including Maxim Afinogenov, Vitaly Vishnevski, Dmitri Kalinin, Denis Grebeshkov and Petr Prucha.
Another day, another NHLer headed to Russia.
This time it’s Minnesota Wild forward Erik Christensen, who has signed a deal with HC Lev of the KHL — the league’s lone team playing in the Czech Republic (Prague, to be specific.)
Lev has yet to play in the KHL and the 2012-13 season will be its first in Russia. That said, the team has set about stockpiling former NHLers: Lubos Bartecko, Marcel Hossa, Jakub Klepis, Drew MacIntyre, Tomas Mojzis, Martin Strbak, Tomas Surovy and Paul Szczechura, to name a few.
Christensen spent last season between the Rangers and Wild, recording 12 points in 49 games. The 28-year-old is best known as one of the NHL’s premier shootout specialists, having scored 29 times in 55 career attempts. Only two players — Jussi Jokinen and Pavel Datsyuk — have scored more goals in the shootout.
Lepisto leaves Chicago, heading to KHL
Sanford off to KHL, goaltending market continues to thin out
Report: KHL team ready to pony up record amount of money for Radulov’s rights