The Russian Factor
Lately the mainstream media has been making a huge deal of the, 'Russian Factor' in regards to top potential draft picks Yakupov and Grigorenko. Although the KHL is always an option for Russian-born players, one must keep in mind these guys chose to come play in the CHL with hopes of playing in the NHL.
Plenty of Canadian born players have held out on contracts and demanded trades to better their personal situation so what is the difference for Russian players? For every Zherdev, Filatov and Radulov there is a Comrie, Pronger, Smyth, Heatley and Lindros.
It isn’t fair to stereotype Russian players' character for being caught out partying during the playoffs then give a pass to Canadian players who have been traded for excessive partying *cough Cup champs*, or wrapped Ferrari’s around posts. But, along with these stigma’s Russian’s and European’s have to put up with the additional scrutiny of being soft, lazy, disinterested, non-team players, etc…
Let’s take a look at two soon-to-be unrestricted free agent winger’s looking to cash in this summer. One guy plays right wing, the other left wing. One just turned 28, the other will next month.
As you can see Player 2 put up better points/60 numbers at evens and on the PP then Player 1 did playing a little bit less time. Player 1 seems to have put up impressive numbers a couple times in his limited shorthanded time on ice.
As for five-on-five time, both guys faced similar Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (about second line competition) and started in the offensive zone more than not at 55-56% of the time. Shots seemed to go in more while Player 2 was on the ice than player 1 (10.1% vs. 8.4%). Player 1 managed a wider positive gap in Shots For – Shots Against at 6.2 vs. 5.4 while both guys saw a similar average of the shots against go in. The role up of this saw Player 2 almost double Player 1 in +-/60 at 0.97 vs. 0.51. Makes you wonder why Player 2 didn’t get more ice time doesn’t it.
Knowing all this and all else being equal which player is most likely more valuable to his team? Probably Player 2, right? What if I further told you that Player 2 is 6’2” and 209 lbs vs. Player 1 at 5’11” and 195 lbs? Tips the scale further by conventional wisdom right?
How about if I now told you that Player 1 is top flight free agent, and a great leader, American - Zach Parise, while Player 2 is flight risk, and enigmatic, Russian - Alexander Semin? Funny how those media buzz words would probably change your perception on which guy is the better player and deserves a bigger payday, isn’t it?
Now in fairness to Parise he does make a hit a game despite his size and Semin hits about once every two games but I fail to see what causes Semin to be crapped on while Parise is called a rock star, other than which passport they carry. The saw-him-bad crowd will call Semin lazy or disinterested, but the results would show otherwise. It will be very interesting to see what each of these two players gets paid in free agency.
If, due to the, 'Russian Factor', Edmonton or Columbus don’t take Yakupov they will be making a big mistake. I include Columbus because I am very concerned the Oilers will make the colossal mistake of drafting Murray for positional need instead of the consensus best player available.
To finish off, I think a smart NHL team should get someone in the organization that can make living in North America easier for European’s who have different languages and customs from our own. Creating an atmosphere where these players can be comfortable would likely maximize their value to the team and would likely be a positive in attracting top talent. In fact, it seems like the payoff could be, as one former Soviet says, “very nice.”