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The icy relations between the U.S. and Russia are not isolated to the political arena. The National Hockey League (NHL) and Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) are facing-off. The cause of the latest squabble between the two leagues is related to the departure of forward Alexander Radulov this summer from the NHL’s Nashville Predators to Salavat Yulaev Ufa, a KHL team, despite the fact that Radulov’s contract with the Preds requires that he plays one more year. The NHL is offended that the KHL does not recognize the validity of its contracts.
The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has attempted to mediate, but NHL officials have refused to attend roundtable meetings hosted by the IIHF. The NHL has said that it will not meet with Russian hockey officials until the Radulov issue is settled. The IIHF, as hockey’s international governing body, can bar Radulov from international play if it finds him in violation of international rules. However, the IIHF has declined to make a ruling on its own and, instead, has moved Radulov’s case towards arbitration. For its part, the NHL has said that it is willing to let the matter go before an arbitrator.
Nonetheless, the lack of communication between the two sides is striking, and to make matters worse the NHL is expressing its anger publicly. Bill Daly, the NHL’s deputy commissioner, defended the NHL’s position adamantly: “[t]he only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him, not to appease him. The IIHF has obviously decided to take the former course here. Rest assured, the NHL and our member clubs will never be bullied or intimidated, and we will always stand up for what is right.”
Opting for arbitration instead of court might be the first step towards resolution of Radulov’s contractual status, but Radulov’s case is just one of several examples of player movement between the leagues, each usually leading to an appeal to the IIHF. Relying on the IIHF to resolve each contractual issue creates a case-by-case history, constantly putting the IIHF in the awkward position of choosing between two friends. It is no secret that a transfer agreement is needed.
It appears that both sides are looking for leverage for the eventual agreement discussions, and the decision in Radulov’s case may offer some. But it may not, and then the posturing and chest puffing will continue. NHL and KHL heads should read some Cold War history, otherwise they are doomed to repeat it.
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