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Staple: Most native Russians still choosing NHL over upstart KHL

The Rangers agreed to contract terms with Russian

The Rangers agreed to contract terms with Russian winger Alexander Frolov who spent seven seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Credit: AP

Alexander Frolov could have had $20-million from the KHL in his native Russia. Ilya Kovalchuk initially had a $10-million per year offer, one that was recently bumped up to a 17-year deal, by KHL president Dmitry Medvedev.

But they both decided to stay in the NHL. Kovalchuk's Devils contract will be approved or rejected by an arbitrator by the end of this week, but he seems resolved to stay in North America.

There has been one high-profile NHLer to head off to the KHL, former Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov, but the only other name player to sign with the Russian league is 35-year-old Pavol Demitra, and he, like Frolov, wanted to be Ranger. But Demitra did not fit into Glen Sather's plans or finances.

So what to make of the free-spending KHL? Jaromir Jagr re-signed with the league, but the quality of play is not enough to go with the big-money offers for native Russians.

"It's still kind of a new league and the level of play is getting better, for sure," Frolov told Newsday. "But the NHL is still the best league in the world, by far. It's not even a question."

Frolov is 28; Kovalchuk is 27. The deciding factor seems to be that two relatively young players didn't want to commit some of their prime years to a league that still doesn't have enough international cache. Nabokov just turned 35 this week, reinforcing the evidence that the KHL is for older players who aren't going to get the seven-figure contracts from the NHL.

Former Ranger Nikolai Zherdev, who played in the KHL last season after one year in New York, has returned and will play with the Flyers next season.

And there are some strong feelings even from the much younger Russian players. Alex Burmistrov, who was selected eighth overall by the Thrashers in the June draft, told AOL that "I really hate the KHL. I really, really hate it. It's for old guys."

Kirill Kabanov, the Islanders' third-round pick, volunteered that he would burn his passport after Garth Snow announced his selection. Kabanov, who had first-round talent but had been dismissed from his junior team and from the Russian national team, is living up to his word. He's been staying on Long Island and training in advance of possibly signing a pro contract.

So for now, the KHL will remain populated mostly by older former NHLers and a few North American washouts. Some of the rosters are a who's who of failed Rangers and Islanders: Vitaly Yeremeyev, Maxim Kondratiev (a component of the Brian Leetch trade), Vladimir Vorobiev, Nils Ekman, Oleg Kvasha, and so on.

"For me, it's not about who went or who didn't go," Frolov said. "You have to make your own choice. It's a good league, the KHL, but this is where I want to be."

 

Isles make their move

Garth Snow had been hunting for a top-four defenseman who could play a physical style and eat up lots of ice time. There were some big names available for big prices - the Leafs' Tomas Kaberle could have been theirs, but only for either a top-six forward or a first-round pick - but Snow found what he was looking for in James Wisniewski.

The price of a conditional third-round pick is certainly reasonable, and now Scott Gordon doesn't have to force-feed major minutes to the young group of defensemen (Andrew MacDonald, Jack Hillen, Dustin Kohn) who have been thrust into key roles the last couple of seasons.

Coupled with signing Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina, the Islanders at the very least have more defensive depth than any time since Gordon took over.

 

Avery reflects

Sean Avery fondly recalled his best stretch of the 2009-10 season. "It was about a 2-3 week stretch right before I got hurt that I was playing the way I'm supposed to play, the way I have played," Avery told Newsday this week. "We just have to show up this year and make sure we're playing hard, that I'm playing hard."

Avery and John Tortorella did not see eye to eye for much of last season, when Avery seemed at times to have a target on his back from officials and didn't look like his usual self until after the Olympic break, when he had five goals and five assists in 13 games before a knee injury knocked him out of the final seven games of the season.

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