This is Alexander Maltsev. He was the guy who dished to Valeri Kharlamov (twice) in the first game of the 1972 series to send us all to the cupboard for Tums, Pepto, Rum, beer or possibly to the garage to take the gaspipe.
We never got to see Maltsev, Kharlamov or Mikhailov play in the NHL or WHA. Tretiak’s SP numbers (the ones we know about) look all world (.911 at the ’72 Olympics, .933 at the ’76 Olympics and .920 at the ’74 WHC’s) but we never saw him play over an entire season.
Those are just some of the names, there are plenty more. We’ve been lucky over the last 30 years or so (since the WHA folded into the NHL and the Russians, Swedes, Czechs and Finns began to find their way over. Some of their travels, like the Stastny’s, Frank Musil and Petr Nedved are among the most interesting and compelling stories in the game’s history) to see the very best players in one league and any fool can see the presence of European players elevated the beautiful game. I don’t know where the line is, some say it was Salming and Hammarstrom coming to Toronto, others believe it was Vaclav Nedomansky signing in the WHA, but it’s been a wonderful 30 years watching these men play the game down at the local rink. It might be time for someone else to have a turn.
Currently, we’re looking at the possibility of some very good NHL calibre players opting out of their contracts to play in Russia. Most of them are Russian, but if the league flies we may one day look at a modern day “Larionov in reverse” as a Canadian kid plays the heart of his career in another league despite being more than qualified for the NHL.
Part of the reason is that Russia has some big money aimed at the very best hockey players in the world and some of them are taking it. I think it’s a good thing.
The Predator Radulov is the lightning rod example currently but there will be others. There are legal questions in regard to walking a contract (as Radulov and Alexander Yashin have done in recent years) but it seems to obscure the real news: there’s a second major league for hockey fans and that can only mean a major shift in thinking for the Conservative Hockey League (NHL).
I think the idea of the KHL (or a rival league of any kind) is a good one, as long as these players are getting the agreed upon dollars and the working conditions are the same. For fans, the quality of play might be diluted somewhat but it’s also true a league as arrogant and as out of touch as the NHL could use a good hard kick in the junk as a friendly reminder about who pays the freight. It could mean things like more Canadian teams in the big leagues (Quebec, Winnipeg, Toronto also deserves an NHL team) and will most certainly kill any future work stoppages planned by the lawyer Bettman.
If Alexander Radulov wants to play in Russia he should be free to do so (contract obviously aside) and if Denis Grebeshkov signs in the KHL one year from now then we’ll have to learn to live with it. Other than that, I think it’s a grand idea. Is the KHL going to be on cable this winter? Hope so.