TORONTO — Vyacheslav Fetisov rolled his eyes. He cleared his throat. And, when all else failed, he simply interrupted whoever was speaking and explained that they had it wrong.
“Discrimination again!” the former hockey player shouted during a Hot Stove Session at the Molson Canadian World Hockey Summit at the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night.
Fetisov was sort of just kidding around. But in a heated panel discussion that focused on the NHL’s fractured relationship with Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, there was some truth to what the KHL’s Chairman of the Board was saying.
Ever since the KHL began operations in 2008, the league has been viewed as a threat to the NHL. The main issue of contention is a lack of a transfer agreement. Both leagues compete for players, neither is compensated for their loss.
According to both sides, that particular problem is not going to be solved in the foreseeable future. But that does not mean the two sides cannot get along — at least during this week’s four-day summit.
“You should have seen the other panels, in terms of friction,” laughed NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, who was on a panel that included Fetisov, IIHF president Rene Fasel and NHLPA senior legal counsel Roman Stoykewych.
“Look, I think we’re on a different road than we’ve been on the last couple of years and I think obviously we’ve had some misunderstandings and differences of agreement,” continued Daly. “And you only bridge those differences of agreement by continued dialogue. And I think we’ve improved the level of dialogue in recent months and I hope that continues.”
Fetisov understands as long as the KHL is operating, it will compete for talent with the NHL. He also believes that competition could be healthy — and financially beneficial — for both sides.
That is why he is proposing transfer agreements where players would be paid based on their talent level. For example, a player such as Alex Ovechkin would cost more to acquire than a fourth-line grinder.
The NHL, meanwhile, is simply striving for each side to stop stealing away players who are currently under contract (the famous example is Alexander Radulov leaving the Nashville Predators to play in the KHL.)
“I don’t think either league right now is interested in kind of your traditional, classic player-transfer agreement,” said Daly. “So I think we have to focus on areas where there can be common ground, where there can be co-operation. I think you heard up there from Slava that he’s interested in more co-operation from the NHL and certainly we want to create common understandings.
“Our bedrock principle is mutual respect of the contract. We want to get to a place where we each respect each other’s contracts.”
For now, the two sides are taking what they called “baby steps.”
That means having the Carolina Hurricanes travel to Russia to play an exhibition game against SKA St. Petersburg on Oct. 4 and the Phoenix Coyotes go to Latvia for a game against Dinamo Riga on Oct. 6.
It is the first time in 20 years that the NHL is travelling to Russia to play a game. And the implications could be far-reaching.
“To be in the same business, we need to put a strategic plan on how to develop the game to open new markets,” said Fetisov. “Geographically, we’re in a good position to bring the Asian countries that are dying to develop hockey programs into the market. Again, we’re going to compete against each other and develop the best players. We only need to see how we’re going to exchange the players.”