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Volume 22 No. 44
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Some NHLers getting million-dollar salaries in Russia

Though NHL players are locked out of the biggest hockey money market in the world, some are finding jobs that pay almost as well in the second-richest market, the Russian Super League.

The Russian league already has signed at least 15 NHL players, including Ilya Kovalchuk, the NHL’s co-leader in goals last season, said Vsevolod Kukushkin, press officer for the 16-team Super League. More players are expected to sign in Russia now that the lockout has been formally announced, he said.

Kukushkin said some NHL players are commanding salaries of $1 million to $2 million a year, and Kovalchuk could make $3 million this year. Kovalchuk earned $4.26 million last season with the Atlanta Thrashers, including $3 million in bonuses, according to published reports. His agent, Jay Grossman, could not immediately be reached for comment.

“If he scores a lot and lands the national championship, he will have bonuses and the total amount will be around $3 million,” Kukushkin said. “I think this year [Russian teams are] spending a little bit more because of the NHL.”

Some teams may get more sponsorship dollars because of the added NHL talent, but for the most part, the addition of the players won’t bring in substantial new revenue for the Russian teams, he said. But playing in Russia is a good deal for players, Kukushkin said, because Russia has a flat income tax of just 13 percent. Additionally, some teams pay the tax for the players, and it is customary for Russian teams to pay for players’ cars and apartments, agents said.

“Right now it is probably the strongest league in the world — considering the NHL will not be playing next season — not just money-wise, but talent-wise,” said Dmitri Goryachkin, a Russia native who is a vice president and agent at sports agency IMG’s New York office.

Goryachkin said the Russian Super League is the only league in the world that can come close to the NHL in terms of salaries. “If the player was making $2 million here, in some cases his salary is very comparable to what he would get there,” he said. “If his salary in the NHL is $5 million, he will not get $5 million in Russia.”

Don Meehan, whose Ontario-based firm, Newport Sports, represents about 100 NHL players, said, “We have a number of Russian players who are NHLers who are going to play in Russia during the lockout. It is a great alternative for players, and the money is extremely good, relatively speaking.”

The average NHL salary last season was $1.8 million. Agents said the next richest markets for players, after the United States and Russia, are Sweden and Switzerland, where players can earn $200,000 to $300,000 a year.

“Top guys over [in Russia] would [receive salaries] almost comparable to the average NHL salary,” said Todd Diamond, an agent who represents about 20 Russian hockey players. “I would say very good players are earning between $600,000 and $900,000 [in Russia].”

Diamond said four or five of his clients, including Maxim Afinogenov and Vitaly Vishnevski, have agreed to play in the Russian Super League on the condition they can come back to the NHL if the lockout ends.

Diamond also represents NHL star Alexei Yashin and said there is a chance Yashin will play in the Russian league if the lockout continues for a while. There are some concerns about playing in Russia, the most daunting of which is securing insurance in case the player sustains an injury. “It’s very expensive,” Diamond said.