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After being linked to Ilya Kovalchuk, is KHL team SKA after Evgeni Nabokov too?

Jul 5, 2010, 10:50 AM EDT

Thumbnail image for 1-nabokov.jpgCould it be that the biggest “mover and shaker” in free agency this year is a team that doesn’t even play in the NHL?

It seems like the KHL team SKA St. Petersburg might end up making a big splash or two, at least if rumored negotiations turn into confirmed signings. Last night I shared reports the KHL team – owned by league president Alexander Medvedev – was looking into signing wayward free agent Ilya Kovalchuk. If Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov is correct, the team might also want to sign the other big-ticket Russian free agent, Evgeni Nabokov.

KHL’s President Medvedev confirmed that his club SKA is negotiating with Evgeni Nabokov.

I have to admit, while others have scrambled to try to find NHL partners for Kovalchuk and Nabokov, the KHL kept creeping up as a money-first beacon for both players. On one hand, it’s a bit lame to see two high-end players retreat to a lesser league for a few extra bucks. The thing is, that might end up being a few extra million bucks, especially when you consider the fact that KHL players tend to deal with less tax-related headaches.

Besides, there aren’t many goalie spots open for Nabokov. I’d say he has more of an excuse to leave the NHL than Kovalchuk, especially since Nabokov (34 going on 35) is quite a bit older than Kovalchuk (27).

Keep in mind, though, that even if there is some legitimacy to the negotiations, both Nabokov and Kovalchuk could simply be using the rival league to try to pump up their values in the NHL. We’ll keep you updated as these contract talks grow from rumors to league-altering realities.

  1. Tony - Jul 5, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    If either goes there, they may come back to the NHL, but their value will never be the same. It is a lesser league, and you don’t see Filatov and Radulov exactly being overwhelmed with NHL interest anymore, do you? Kovalchuk will stay here, so his Russian agent Nikolaev says, and I believe that. There is some truth to Kovalchuk legitimately wanting to win here, I believe that, and I saw it first-hand in NJ, Kovy speaks his mind, he doesn’t sugar-coat anything. Nabokov, however, I could see signing in Russia, as well as a guy like Frolov. That’s their loss, and good luck to them.

  2. StakeX - Jul 5, 2010 at 11:35 AM

    I really wouldn’t blame either of them for taking the big bucks in Russia. After all hockey (or any sport) isn’t always a calling to a pro, and quite often is little more then a well paying job. Sure, everyone wants to win and its nice to win in the best league in the world… but its still just a sport, and just a job. Any other professional, at any other job in the world, would almost certainly take the (far)better paying job. Why do we expect athleats to be elevated above that, and be bound by some personal desire to win first and collect a check second?
    Kovalchuk probably does want to win… but obviouslly not bad enough. If it was all about winning in the NHL he would take a pay cut to fit onto a team that would have a legit shot at winning. Instead hes demanding money that no serious cup contender can pay right now. So since its obvious to anyone with a brain money is what matters to Kovalchuk, it only makes sense that theres at least a 50/50 chance he will be going to Russia.

  3. Serge - Jul 7, 2010 at 11:55 AM

    Although I agree that the KHL is a lesser league at this point, and that Kovalchuk has developed over time into a team player who is hungry to win, there are other factors which have to be considered. First of all, apart from taking the bigger bucks, one has to consider that Kovalchuk’s family (unlike Nabokov’s) is in Russia. Being closer to the family has persuaded a ton of players over time to choose their home-city (take Toronto for example). Second of all, the 2014 Olympics are in Sochi, Russia, and playing out a contract leading up to a home Olympics could be an important factor as well. Kovalchuk has stated on multiple occasions that winning the Olympics is his #1 priority, and to do it on home soil would be twice as important. Playing in Russia in front of the national team’s head coach (Bykov) would be a big plus here as well…Nabokov’s age is an important factor in considering that this is his last opportunity to solidify a long-term contract. If SKA can put down the bucks which no NHL team can match, I can see him bolt to the KHL.
    My conclusion is that Kovalchuk heading to the KHL is a 50/50, whereas Nabokov’s is about 30/70…We’ll see how it all plays out shortly

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