SBJ/November 26 - December 2, 2001/Labor Agents

Russian NHL draftees fire agent under pressure

SFX hockey chief Jay Grossman says a Russian hockey club president forced two of his clients who are top 2001 NHL draft picks to sign letters firing Grossman as their agent.

The letters to the NHL Players' Association say that No. 3 pick Alexander Svitov and No. 5 pick Stanislav Chistov have terminated their contracts with Grossman.

But Grossman said the players, both 18, told him several weeks ago they were forced to sign letters by Anatoly Bardin, president of professional Russian Super League team Avangard Omsk.

"I have not seen [the letters] you are describing, but I was aware that [Bardin] forced them to sign some documents," Grossman said. He added that he is in constant contact with the players, whom he has represented since before this year's NHL entry draft.

Bardin, who had an assistant fax the letters to SportsBusiness Journal, did not return calls seeking comment on Grossman's allegations. But in another letter faxed by his assistant, Bardin said both players signed five-year contracts with Avangard in 2000 that include a commitment to military service that was insisted upon by the players' parents. The letter claimed Grossman hid that from Tampa Bay, which drafted and signed Svitov.

Grossman said it was Bardin, not the players' parents, who forced the teen-agers to commit to military service, but that he was uncertain because neither Bardin nor the players could provide documentation.

Bardin, according to Grossman, is intent on keeping the players from the NHL, a motivation he has boasted about in Russian newspapers, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times in October.

"He has forced them to do a lot of things," Grossman said. "He has forced them into the military."

In the players' letters, dated Nov. 5, Svitov and Chistov say in broken English that Grossman and his assistants paid off the players' parents without their knowledge. "I found out about it and I was under pressure of that and I had to agree to work with Grossman," the players said.

Grossman denied that he paid anyone and said the players told SFX agents in Russia last week that they are still his clients.

Efforts to reach Chistov and Svitov through Avangard and Grossman were unsuccessful.

The termination letters are the latest salvo in a bizarre story of international intrigue that began in June when the two professional Russian players were selected in the NHL draft.

Svitov was selected third overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chistov was taken fifth by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Chistov returned to Omsk in July after an extended visit with the Ducks and was sent to a military boot camp.

Shortly after that, Tampa Bay Lightning officials secretly signed Svitov to a reported $3.6 million NHL contract, said team assistant general manager Jay Feaster. The Lightning did not announce the deal because it feared that Svitov would also be inducted into the military.

The Lightning, instead, quietly appealed to the International Ice Hockey Federation to have Svitov transferred from Omsk to Tampa Bay. Under international hockey rules, the only thing that overrides an NHL contract is compulsory military service, according to NHL officials.

But on the day that Bardin received the transfer letter from the IIHF, Russian soldiers showed up at the Omsk hockey team's offices and took Svitov.

Both Svitov and Chistov have since returned to Avangard Omsk, although they were briefly placed with CSKA Moscow, the former Red Army team, by soldiers who took them from their hotel rooms during an Avangard road game. Bardin successfully negotiated the players' return to the Avangard team, according to his letter and news reports.

The NHL at first questioned whether the military inductions were valid but then determined that they were, said Bill Daly, NHL chief legal officer. Feaster said that Tampa's Russian scout has spoken with Svitov in recent months and Svitov wants to play hockey.

"The player evidenced his desire to play in the NHL by signing a contract on July 14," Feaster said. "At this time, Mr. Bardin's actions have cost the player $1 million." That's a reference to the bonus Svitov would have already received had he come to Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, Bardin demanded that Tampa Bay pay him $500,000 for his damages involving the temporary loss of Svitov's services, according to Feaster. Pierre Gauthier, general manager of the Ducks, said Bardin's demand for $500,000 "is an obvious attempt to extort money" from Tampa Bay.

"I am sure if we transferred some money into a Swiss bank account, [the Chistov situation] would all be resolved," Gauthier added.

Gauthier said the Ducks did not sign the 18-year-old Chistov because they want him to develop his hockey skills and are willing to wait out his two-year military obligation. But he worries that the controversy surrounding the player will hurt his development.

Since returning to Omsk, Chistov and Svitov have not been allowed much playing time, Grossman said.

Gauthier and Feaster said they were not aware of any documents signed by the players firing Grossman as their agent.

The letters provided by Bardin's assistant were addressed to "the association of professional hockey players, NHL" and copied to "management of NHL."

Daly said the league has not received the letters. Bardin, he said, "has sent us a host of letters, all of which were factually inaccurate and legally inaccurate."

NHL Players' Association spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon confirmed that the union received the letters. He would not say whether the union was looking into the allegations.

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