I had the opportunity to chat with Paul Kelly, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association, near the Pittsburgh Penguins locker room after Game 6.
The following interview, which will also run in Russia inside Sovetsky Sport, covers a lot of ground; including Michael Nylander's contract status with the Washington Capitals and flirtation with the KHL; how the NHLPA feels about having Russian stars leading the League but the NHL not have a strong relationship with Russian hockey; a brief word about the Coyotes' situation; and his thoughts ahead of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
First up, we discuss would could be a tense summer for the NHL and the KHL:
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Q. Viktor Kozlov signed in Russia earlier this week. There is also talk in Russia that Avangard Omsk is trying to get Michael Nylander over to the KHL. This brings the following question: in the absence of the transfer agreement between the NHL and the Russians, how can a player, like Nylander, with an NHL contract go and play it Russia?
KELLY: Technically, he can't. Unless the Capitals take certain steps to end his contract by buying him out or something like that. And this is one of the issues we have had with the KHL. We should be respecting each other's contracts. The NHL shouldn't be signing any players under contract in Russia, and vice versa, they shouldn't be signing guys who have NHL obligations. We will watch that very carefully, but they should not permit players, who have contractual obligations elsewhere, to sign.
Even if the Capitals, for example, don't mind him signing in the KHL?
Again, if it gets cleared by the club and the league approves then it is a different story. I am not aware that that's happened with respect to Michael Nylander.
All the best players will still play here as long as Ovechkins, Malkins and Datsyuks are here. But still, what do you think needs to be done to normalize the relationships with the Russians? It can only do good for the game to have a normal working relationship.
We want hockey to be strong everywhere. Including, we think it's good for hockey to have a strong KHL. You know, it'd be nice to have some kind of transfer agreement that would make sense. Thus far, we've not had much success reaching common ground with the Russians on the transfer agreement. I think you're right that as long as we have people like Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk and others, young Russians will want to play in the NHL because still it is the finest hockey in the world. It is going to take many years before the KHL will come up to this level. Hopefully, they will someday. But I think we just need to continue to communicate with each other. We need to talk more, we need to meet face to face more often; we need to communicate. If we continue to do that, we will work through some of these problems.
You make it sound like the communication is ongoing. But I think it stopped a long time ago.
I was in Switzerland for the World Championships, and I many occasions to talk directly with Alexander Medvedev [head of the KHL]. We had lunch together on one occasion. I think there hasn't been a great deal of communication thus far directly between the NHL management and the KHL management. And part of it is the friction over the Radulov contract. But I think it needs to change and it needs to improve.
For Russian fans, their national team and the Olympics is the big deal. What are the chances that the agreement will be reached by the Sochi Olympics in 2014 to allow NHL players to participate?
It's a jump fall at this point. I'd say the players strongly favor participating in the Sochi Olympics. The League has its reservations. That's the question that needs to be worked out between the NHL and the NHLPA. We are continuing to talk about it, and hopefully we will be able to work it out.
You represent the players. And earlier this year in a survey 82% of players said they want to participate.
It's true. Players overwhelmingly want to participate. But it is one of those issues that is collectively bargained. So, we have to reach some agreement with the league in order for that to happen.
I am sure you follow the Phoenix Coyotes court proceedings. Could you give us any thoughts on that from the NHLPA standpoint?
No, at this point I'd wait and see what the court decides. I wasn't in court, and I didn't really listen to the proceedings. So, I am really not in the position to say very much.
We also talked a bit about the Stanley Cup Final:
Q. What do you think about the finals so far?
KELLY: Oh, it's been terrific. Great hockey, seven games. It's terrific for the sport. I am very happy.
Did you think it would go seven before the start of the series?
I think I expected it to go either six or seven games. These are two very good teams who know each other pretty well. It is very good for hockey in North America.
What do you think could possibly break this 6-0 record by home teams?
That's a good question. I don't really know. Obviously, good goaltending, for starters; a team getting a couple of early breaks. The other day Pittsburgh, playing a game in Detroit, played very, very well for the first five or ten minutes or so, and they weren't able to capitalize on any of their opportunities, which was unfortunate. Had they scored a goal or two, they probably would have been right there. But once they were down by a couple of goals, it was very, very tough. But I expect a very close game Friday night.
Who is your MVP?
If Pittsburgh wins, at this point I'd have to say Malkin. And if Detroit comes out on top, it's a good question. Probably, Osgood.