Friday, July 18, 2008

SPORTS: Ban Contract-Jumpers for Life

Here I go again, pulling on my robes of omniscience as czar of all things hockey. It's time to look at the Alexander Radulov situation and how it serves as a bellweather for the future.

Radulov wants to go home to play for more money in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. It's hardly a new story, what with Canadians of all experience stripes signing overseas and then heading home ... sometimes before the ink is dry on their contracts. And sometimes before the contract's expiration date. So, I'm not ready to come down on Radulov like a ton of bricks.

That said, it's time for a new set of rules to handle the POSSIBILITY that this signing is more than a mere pinprick in the NHL's hockey talent lifeline. For starters, any player who plays with another league's team without WRITTEN permission, while under contract to the NHL team, is banned immediately and irrevocably forever from playing in the NHL. News of this rule should be publicized far and wide, in every minor hockey dressing room from Ottawa to Omsk. The day Radulov plays for Ufa, the NHL holds a press conference and declarers Radulov finished in the NHL. The NHL then calls conferences on every television station in Russia to re-broadcast that ruling. Have EVERY scout talk up the rule. Make Radulov the hockey version a modern-day Sisyphus, never ever getting to the top of that damned hill.

Secondarily, the NHL AND Hockey Canada have to jointly refuse to play in ANY competition that features a banned player playing. The IIHF is SUPPOSED to ban Radulov, but there has to be a little steel at their back to stiffen their spine. There is NO way that the IIHF CAN allow Radulov to play internationally this year (or any year), unless they believe in that cockamamie story about the signing occurring before the NHL-Russian 'agreement' not to poach went into effect. And the NHL and Hockey Canada have to play hardball with the Junior World Championships, which is an IIHF cash cow, coming to Canada every two years. If the IIHF won't back the ban on Radulov and any to follow, then Canada will withdraw from the World Championships and host an international series of exhibitions with the USA. Any argument that series won't draw as much as a World Junior? More profits, too.

That's it. Make the rule. Advertise the rule. Stand by it. Enforce it.

The benefits are immense. The rule has its underpinnings in organized crime. If you are consistently ruthless, the odds you have to actually enforce the rule becomes distinctly unlikely. If it does occur, then you wash your hands of the problem and don't waste time, effort and money pursuing legal recourses. If the NHL wants to help out by offering up an extra draft pick at the end of the round the contract-jumper was drafted in, I can live with it.

Certainly, some of the contract-jumpers won't be of Radulov's calibre. Backups to backups won't fear the international ban and will gladly go home to take Gazprom's millions to live closer to where ever they are from. No loss. And some potential stars WON'T make the first trip over, fearing being caught in a bad contract with no chance to come home to mommy and daddy. Again, no loss. They don't have the mental make-up to play in a foreign land. And make no mistake, it's tough for somebody to jump countries to pursue a job. I had issues with working in the U.S., and that's really only a lite version of Canada afterall. It takes mental fortitude to pick up and move a half-world away. We've all seen failures with talent. It's usually the inability to settle in that does them in.

There's a LOT of Russian money around, gas prices being what they are. There WILL be raiding parties and there will be deal-of-a-lifetime contracts offered up. Players WILL be enticed. As long as they know what awaits them for going back on their word, the NHL has done ALL that it can to try and keep them.

Anything else is just begging.

No comments: