Friday, May 16, 2008

The Future Habs D: Transfers and Treaties

No more than a blip on most peoples' radar during our ongoing playoff run: at the end of April/beginning of May it emerged the IIHF transfer agreement was heading for collapse, in all likelihood.

The Hockey News carried the story.

The article notes how the Czechs are stepping into line with the Russians in their boycott of an uneven playing field with piddly transfer money for young stars. It also notes that should the agreement fall down (as seems likely), the current flat fee for players will be a thing of the past and player transfers will be negotiated on an individual basis – much like the world of soccer.

Spector of FoxSports also addresses the issue of international transfers. While his take on matters is altogether correct for the transfer of superstars (suggesting the NHL money will win the day), he does little to acknowledge the way the landscape will change for NHL clubs looking to populate their support positions with more talented Russians, Czechs and Swedes. The individual negotiation of terms for terms for transfers of 3rd and 4th defencemen and 2nd line wingers could be a turn off for the lazier NHL GMs, and the cheaper of the owners.

On the flip side, while reluctant teams withdraw, there could be a boon for teams who choose the stick with the recruitment of Eastern Europeans. The simple mechanics of supply and demand governing the process over time.

So where does this leave the Canadiens?

Like the Detroit Red Wings, the Montreal Canadiens are becoming a poster franchise for the use of intelligent European scouting teamed with effective integration strategies for the players once they arrive. While Detroit uses its expertise in Sweden to exploit the top Swedish leagues, Montreal has been plucking diamonds from the rough in Russia and former Soviet republics like Belarus.

The franchise currently has three defensive prospects from Russia (already balking at flat fees) in the development pipeline:

1) Pavel Valentenko

2) Alexei Emelin

3) Konstantin Korneev

Valentenko is currently under the Habs tutelage in Hamilton, with a North American contract assuring his availability to the big club for the near future. However, if he isn't resigned, he could fly the coop rather than stick around for life in the AHL.

Emelin is the great white hope, and is technically bound to his RSL club through next season. While Korneev (little Markov) is playing with CSKA for the foreseeable future, as well as demonstrating his worth with the Russian National squad in Quebec City.

The Canadiens could conceivably have all three players lined up on the blue line next season, though that seems very unlikely indeed. Partly due to seniority, mostly due to transfer arrangements. However, over time it seems that at least a couple of these three young Dmen would prove to be significant upgrades on other available options like Cote and Carle.

I would be happy to see any of the three with the team as we move away from washed up veterans (Brisebois, Dandenault) and make the Bell Centre a defensive fortress. I hope the first steps are taken this summer with some resolution on the best of the three (Emelin), and who wouldn't want an offensive youngster like Korneev on that second PP?

If I had Gillett's ear, I would be preparing for a presentation on the benefits of being at the vanguard of transfer activity as the new NHL system moves to a world soccer transfer market. I would suggest the following strategy:

1) Hire a transfer specialist – preferably someone who can speak Russian or Czech

2) Begin to make inroads with mega-clubs like CSKA, AK Bars Kazan and Avangard Omsk

3) Foster good feeling with Russian teams by presenting fair offers for Emelin and Korneev (maybe that Huet money he saved could come to good use after all)

The NHL:Euro environment is in the throes of change and the teams that adapt quickest will stand to gain the most (much like Detroit's scouting visions from the early 1990s).

The immediate impact of being at the vanguard of this movement for the Canadiens could be a superb defensive backline. The long-term benefits could lead to them playing with a stacked deck for years to come. If the Habs don't, some other team will.

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