Vladimir Sobotka has flirted with a return to the St. Louis Blues in each of the past two off-seasons after leaving the organization for the KHL in 2014-15, and while he sounded confident he would be returning to the NHL in time for the 2016-17, it seems as though difficulties in getting out of his deal with Avangard Omsk will keep Sobotka in Russia for one more season.
In a statement, Avangard president Vladimir Shalaev said that the “memorandum of mutual respect of contracts KHL and the NHL has not been cancelled,” and that rumors Sobotka would be returning to St. Louis were exactly that — rumors.
“The situation with Sobotka developed exactly as we expected,” Shalaev said. “In the summer, we talked about the fact that Vladimir is our team’s player because he has a valid contract with Avangard for another year.”
The situation is a lot more murky than Sobotka, 29, simply having a deal with Omsk, though.
Throughout the off-season, indications have been that Sobotka has planned on returning to the Blues and honoring the one-year, $2.725-million contract that he was awarded in arbitration before leaving the NHL for the KHL. However, as the summer wore on and Sobotka attempted to get his official release from his deal, news came that triggering his opt-out clause wasn’t as easy as he had hoped.
In mid-September, while Sobotka was suiting up for the Czech Republic at the World Cup of Hockey, he told ESPN’s Joe McDonald that talks with the KHL had been ongoing for five months and Sobotka was still without his release.
"We're still talking and we'll see what's going to happen during the World Cup," Sobotka told McDonald. "After that, I think we're going to be smarter. It's been going on for five months and I've had enough of it. It's my agent's job to to keep talking and we'll see."
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford, the NHL has been “monitoring” Sobotka’s situation, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged Sobotka’s willingness to return to the NHL but told Rutherford there were “issues” standing between Sobotka and an NHL return.
“It’s complicated to say the least with the Russians,” Blues GM Doug Armstrong said late last week, according to Rutherford. “We want (Sobotka) back. The conversation was he wants to come back, but as I said, it’s more complicated than I was led to believe over the summer and that part’s disappointing.”
One potential issue could be that in order for Sobotka to come back to the NHL, he needs to buy himself out of his contract. Fox Sports Midwest’s Darren Pang, a broadcaster for the Blues, reported that Sobotka getting out of his deal could require him to pay two-thirds of his alleged $4-million salary for the upcoming season. That would mean Sobotka is on the hook for $2.64 million, essentially meaning his NHL return would see him playing for little more than $100,000.
Regardless of the issues, though, it appears Sobotka’s saga is over for another summer, and will be until at least the end of the KHL campaign. He’s heading back to Avangard, and the Blues will have to wait a while to see him suit up in St. Louis.
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