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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, July 13, 2017 1:00 am

Some Russians choose Olympics over NHL

Aaron Torres | Washington Post

In April, the NHL announced that it would not be sending players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, with Commissioner Gary Bettman saying the league did not want to disrupt its regular season.

Among those affected by that decision are players from Russia, and some are apparently deciding to leave the NHL and head to the Kontinental Hockey League so they can participate in the Games.

When NHL free agency kicked off on July 1, some Russian players – Philadelphia Flyers forward Roman Lyubimov, Chicago Blackhawks' goaltender Lars Johansson, former first-round pick Mikhail Grigorenko and former Tampa Bay Lightning defender Nikita Nesterov – decided to sign with the KHL.

Two players, Lyubimov and former New Jersey Devil Ilya Kovalchuk, said the Olympics was either the main reason, or one of the reasons, for going to the KHL.

“One of the main factors was the upcoming Olympic Games. In 2018, only players who play in European championships and the KHL can compete there,” Kovalchuk said July 9, via CSKA Moscow.

Kovalchuk did try to come back to the NHL for the upcoming season, but the Devils were unable to get a concrete offer for the 34-year-old forward, according to an article in Yahoo Sports on July 9.

After the NHL's decision, the Russian Hockey Federation said on April 5 that one of its goals was to bring back Russian hockey players from the NHL so its players could compete in the Olympics.

“We accept the National Hockey League's decision. At the moment, we are continuing our World Championship and Olympic Games preparations,” said Arkady Rotenberg, the board chairman of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, in a statement. “Now, we have two tasks. The first is to keep KHL players in Russia instead of moving to the NHL in the summer. The second task is to bring Russian players home from the NHL if their contract is expiring.”

Some Russian players – including several of the most prominent – have elected to stay in the NHL: Alexander Radulov, the Dallas right wing, signed a five-year, $31.25 million contract with the Stars; Evgeny Dadonov, a wing, re-signed with the Florida Panthers for three years and $12 million; and forward Vadim Shipachyov signed a two-year deal worth $9 million with the Las Vegas Golden Knights.

Washington Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov said he thought about playing in the KHL this season, but instead resigned with the Caps for eight years and $62.4 million.

It's unknown if players who are under contract, such as Alex Ovechkin, will defy the NHL and play in the Olympics anyway.