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Let’s start with a disclosure: we aren’t actively covering the lockout. Financial negotiations (and their public face) are all about posturing, tedium, and equivocation, whereas our principal interest in hockey has always been scoar, moar, and goals. That said, our Alex Ovechkin has spoken out about the ongoing melee between NHL ownership and players, and it’s definitely newsworthy.

Talking with SovSport’s Dmitry Ponomarenko after Saturday’s game, Ovechkin gave his spin on the NHL’s offer to the players earlier this week, dismissing the proposal as “nothing new” and “good only after a quick look.” Ovechkin continued:

If we speak in Russian, the NHL provided a beautiful dream to the media and fans, but in reality it’s a lie. It’s showboating. The league is trying to show that they are kind of working, trying to save the season, but they offer nothing new. It’s all the same, just in different words.

In the interview, Ovechkin carries some water for the players’ association, but he ends with a bombshell: he is willing to walk away from the NHL if the new CBA is no good.

For starters, Ovechkin is not optimistic for a timely outcome to the lockout until the NHL changes:

If NHL bosses keep making us such “profitable” offers, [the lockout] will last for a long time. We’re far from a compromise.

Ovechkin echoes comments made by Ilya Kovalchuk, who had harsh words for Gary Bettman on Friday:

I don’t think lockout will end soon. Bettman decided to throw the dust in our eyes because media isn’t talking about him very well lately. But actually the offer they gave is the same one, just in other words. A great person [Donald Fehr] is the head of the union with great experience. He’ll break it down, explain to us, and we’ll make the decision.

Meaningful progress seems unlikely until both sides adopt a spirit of compromise. When asked about the players’ willingness to make concessions, Ovechkin made this point:

There are a lot of nuances, a lot of hidden rocks. And all of them are in the league’s favor. Why in the world should our salaries be cut down? They say: let’s shorten the contracts to five years, then take 24 percent back. And what will be left? You offered that salary and now you take it back? That’s why there’s a lockout.

Most of that is right on the money. The recently expired collective-bargaining agreement and all the contracts made during its term were the result of the 2004-05 lockout and the player-owner compromise that ended it. While without context it may seem fair to start negotiation with 50-50 revenue sharing, the league and players already stipulated that 57-43 was “fair.” This current lockout exists because the league shifted its definition of fair and now requires concessions from players to bridge the gap it created.

The economic realities of the NHL aside, it’s hard to characterize this negotiation as anything except the owners wanting to pay the players less than they said they would. It’s probably inevitable that will happen, but how much less could be a problem. A big problem if you take it from Ovi.

Should the new CBA be unfavorable to Ovechkin, Ponomarenko asked if he might stay in Russia:

If the negotiations between you and the league will not lead to compromise, can you see yourself continuing your career in Russia? Is it possible/doable in a legal perspective?

I think yes. If my contract will be cut down greatly, it would be possible to annul it through the court.

That is not a Donald Fehr talking point.

Is it an empty threat, or is Ovi the Keyser Söze of hockey? Is he willing to do what the other guys won’t? Is he willing to disappear from North American hockey forever? (And is that even legally possible?)

I doubt it. If playing pro hockey were just a financial calculation for Ovechkin, he’d be wearing Dynamo blue every year, collecting a massive tax-free* salary, and cavorting with the superior women of Russia. But it’s not just about cash money for him. The NHL, when it actually plays games, has the best talent in the world, and D.C. has been Alex’s home for nearly a decade.

So I recommend we mark this down as hollow brinksmanship, more of that posturing and equivocation we at RMNB have been so reticent to write about up until now.

Translation by Fedor Fedin and Igor Kleyner.

UPDATE: Fedor informs me that as of 2012, Russia has instituted a 13% income tax for residents.

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  • Yo8

    This sounds more personal each time he talks about it. I don’t think anyone would like to leave his country and family for a lie.

  • There’s something very nasty about the bait & switch going on right now … I think I’d support Ovie (and anyone else who wanted) staying in his home country. Why come here, if your contract is written on toilet paper?

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