Now that the transfer agreement between the NHL and the International Ice Hockey Federation is history, the NHL can stop pretending it cares about international hockey.
For years, the league paid lip service – and backed it up with a cash commitment – to the notion it was concerned about the development of European players and was more than happy to help those countries out by providing a stipend for the players they extracted.
The previous agreement with the IIHF provided a structured framework for player transfers and, more importantly, payment of more than $10 million a year for teams in Europe.
But the European federations, led by the Russians, refused to sign a re-worked version of the agreement and now they will get nothing.
The fact is, the absence of an agreement between the NHL and IIHF will not stem the flow of European players to the NHL one iota. If there are fewer Europeans in the NHL, it will be more because teams have only two years to sign European draft picks under the new collective bargaining agreement where in the past they could leave them to develop in Europe in perpetuity.
When NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is going “in a different direction” with respect to a transfer agreement, that was basically code for “we know they need us way more than we need them.”
The NHL has soured on its involvement in international hockey lately and has begun to realize that working to promote the game globally has done almost nothing for the league’s fortunes. That’s why it’s very likely 2010 will be the last time you’ll see NHL players involved in the Winter Olympics.
And it’s not because there’s no agreement with the IIHF, either, because the league could shut down for two weeks if it wanted and make its players available for the Olympics with or without the approval of the IIHF.
Actually, the league has made nice with the European federations for some time now more out of a sense of courtesy than anything else. No other professional sports league has an all-encompassing agreement with another body the way the NHL did with the IIHF.
Now that those federations have essentially turned their backs on the league, the NHL will carry on and they’ll now take European players for free.
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