Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Is it over for Russians with the Habs?

I would have to believe that this will be the last straw when it comes to Alexei Yemelin's chances of landing a job with the Montreal Canadiens.

Marc De Foy reported this evening at ruefrontenac.com that Yemelin had signed a new two-year contract with Ak Bars Kazan.

For many followers of the Canadiens, Yemelin has been kind of a mythic figure for years, his name always popping up as a potential centrepiece of a revamped Habs defence corps that would include Ryan McDonough, P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and perhaps even David Fischer.

As De Foy points out in his piece, Bob Gainey may have been expecting Yemelin to serve as a possible replacement should Mike Komisarek decide to play elsewhere this summer. Yemelin supposedly has a similar physical edge to his game and may have been a decent fill-in, even though it's difficult to know whether or not he is NHL-ready seeing as Yemelin is hardly ripping up the KHL.

To have Yemelin opt for a two-year deal in Russia rather than sign with the Canadiens - who were apparently in negotiations with Don Meehan for his services - may mark the end of this relationship.

I know if I were Gainey, I would be pretty unimpressed right about now with Russian players. Let's look at what's happened with Russian Habs over the past few years:

Case 1) Alex Kovalev dogs it one year, reportedly tells a Russian newspaper that his coach is racist, comes back to have a near career year, then dogs it again until Gainey is forced to sit him down, only to have him finish the season on fire. A model of consistency.

Case 2) Alexander Perezhogin (who is actually Kazakh but plays for Russia internationally), unhappy with his playing time and salary in Montreal, decides to go home and play in the KHL. Perezhogin has been a very effective player in Russia with 91 points in 105 games over the past two seasons with Ufa Salavat Yulayev.

Case 3) Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn (who are actually Belarusian) are found to have at least 2,000 phone conversations with a reputed mobster, but are cleared of any wrongdoing. Both brothers have horrible seasons on the ice.

Case 4) Pavel Valentenko, tired of learning in Hamilton, heads back to play in the KHL for more money after only four games with the Bulldogs this season, his father seemingly negotiating a contract with Moscow Dynamo behind his and his agent's back.

Case 5) Alexei Yemelin signs for another two years with Ak Bars Kazan, a contract that will take him to age 25 without having played a single game in North America as a professional.

Really, the only positive story for a Russian player over the past few years in Montreal has been Andrei Markov, and it's probably no coincidence that he makes a ton of money.

This decision by Yemelin shouldn't necessarily be a huge surprise, and at least he didn't sign with the Habs only to come over here and bolt back to Russia. If he doesn't want to play in the NHL, that's his decision.

But that decision may have just scratched another NHL team off the list of those willing to take a chance on young Russian players.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Andy J. Smith for pointing out the failed Sergei Samsonov free agent experiment as another Russian experience gone wrong for Gainey. That signing just came off the books this year as the Habs still had the buyouts of Jassen Cullimore and Tony Salmeleinen on their cap figure.


Andy J Smith illustration said...

Samsonov, anyone?

Now watch them sign Antropov and Afinogenov.

Arpon Basu said...

Oh yeah, forgot about him. I'm going to have to make an update now.

Topham said...

There's a reason people experiment with Russians – it's because they're darn good at hockey.

What's more, with more teams than the Canadiens going sour (Columbus and Nashville come to mind), the Russians in the draft will be bargains.

Really, the onus here is on the scouting. There are Russians who will do anything to play in the NHL (Malkin, for example) and they must be identified. Anyone with a modicum of sense can see that Russians (and other Europeans) are not scouted to the depths that North Americans are – detroit saw datsyuk play once. If a team gets serious and hires a proper scout who can not only watch the players but interview them like the Habs do with about 50 QMJHL nobodies, then they'd be more successful.

In the end, we mustn't tar all Russians with the same brush. Especially at a time when the evidence and trophy hauls (Ross, Hart, Selke, etc.) are going the way of Russian success stories over here.

Anonymous said...

i'm not convinced simply 'scouting' is the answer. look at radulov. obviously teams in general (not just the habs) are going to be even more unwilling to draft russian players than we saw a year ago with cherapanov (rip) as russians continue to return to their homeland (federov and kozlov come to mind). however, i'd like to believe that the situation won't be as volatile in the future. the khl isn't a stable league yet and i imagine we'll continue to see a lot of flip-flopping over the next few years but eventually (and perhaps especially, given the early draft) players will decide early in their careers whether or not they're interested in coming to the nhl.

right now, it's not in the nhl's best interest to risk a draft pick on players who might never come over. i don't agree with painting all russians the same colour but i think, right now, it's sadly inevitable.

Arjun said...

I never thought I'd say this, but enough Europeans. Detroit is the only team that has succeeded with a big Go Europe philosophy. Malkin is a one of a kind player. The Habs need to have a philosophy and play a style of game. Something they didn't have this past year. No more Europeans. Until there is a system to fit them into.

Anonymous said...

Nobody mentions the best and most spectacular player in the league right now: Alexandre Ovechkin?
Seems to me that he really wants and can play in he NHL.
A great ambassador for the game too!

Sliver24 said...

One more: that prima donna Grabovski who went AWOL to see his agent in LA because he wasn't happy with his ice time.

Arpon Basu said...

I hope people don't take the story to mean that the Canadiens would be sour on ALL Russians. Obviously, if Ilya Kovalchuk were to become available, I'm pretty sure Bob Gainey would be interested. I'm talking about somewhat marginal Russian prospects or players who may or may not wind up as stars in the league. Kovalchuk, Ovechkin and Malkin were all slam dunks before they were even drafted, but I don't think the Canadiens will be developing a Pavel Datsyuk anytime soon.