By Jason Menard,
Whether your name is Dorothy or Dmitri, there really is no place like home.
In the wake of Alexander Burmistrov’s return to the KHL and Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to forsake $77 million US to return to his homeland, the Winnipeg Sun’s Paul Friesen looked into whether teams should be concerned about drafting and investing in Russian players.
His primary interview source was former NHLer, Soviet hockey legend, and current NHL and KHL player agent Igor Larionov, who said he still counsels players to ply their wares in the world’s top league. But he acknowledged that others may not.
Fans, of course, bleed only the colours of their teams. Jets fans can be forgiven for being frustrated with the talented Burmistrov’s decision — but they shouldn’t be angry. Because, given most people’s druthers, they’d have done exactly the same thing.
There’s a time in my life, when I was younger, that I would have jumped at the best offer, regardless of location. Young, champing at the bit, without a care or concern in the world, I would have picked up at the drop of a hat and gone off to explore the world.
But I knew then — and am certain now — that I always would have come back.
Had I had a bit more (I’m being generous. Indulge my fantasy) talent and was lucky enough to play in the NHL, I would have been the players’ association’s worst nightmare. I would have gladly sacrificed some salary if I could have played for the Montreal Canadiens. My family (and my wife’s family) is from there, I spent many years living there, and I love the lifestyle.
As I get older, the draw is even greater.
Married, with children, friends, and family in an area — those are the ties that truly bind. Eventually, whether in sports or everyday life, we become less selfish, more aware of those around us, and more accommodating of needs that extend beyond our own.
Children seeing their grandparents, partners spending time with friends, even comfort with the local customs, languages, and experiences — it all adds up to a tremendous draw for anyone. It’s why I chose not to move south of the border, and it’s why I am where I am today.
And that’s for us regular Janes and Joes who are pulling a normal-sized paycheque. Imagine what the choice would be for those for whom money is no object.
Yes, certain Russian players can earn more money here in North America. And it’s also true that some less-established players can put more in the bank overseas. But when you get to the multi-million-dollar level, the difference between five million a year and eight million a year may not add up to your family’s comfort.
(That said, I’m willing to put that theory to the test. If anyone would like to offer me $10 million to take my family to live elsewhere, then cut that in half to bring us back to Canada, I’d be a willing participant in that study.)
Will it make NHL teams think twice about drafting Russians? Probably not. At least it shouldn’t.
What it should do is put a premium on the off-ice factors and investigations. Is a player chasing a paycheque or is he motivated by playing in the NHL and chasing a Stanley Cup? Is the player aware and willing to wait three or four years before they hit a big payday? Or will a bigger offer that comes quicker from a KHL squad trump all?
From the fan perspective, it can be frustrating. But it should be understandable. After all, given the same opportunity, we wouldn’t do anything differently ourselves.