Filatov - his options and choice

Most coveted Euro talent has some things to consider

27.06.2008
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Will Russian junior national team player Nikita Filatov really leave Russia, or think about one more year with CSKA Moscow? Photo: IIHF/HHoF/Mikael Fritzon

Nikita Filatov, 18, the highest picked European at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, became also the first overall draft choice when the Canadian Hockey League held its Import Draft on Thursday. What does it mean? Where will the highly coveted forward play the coming season? What are his options? IIHF.com tries to explain.

The cherub-faced Russian from CSKA Moscow was selected sixth overall by Columbus in the NHL Entry Draft in Ottawa last Friday, becoming the most sought-after European talent in 2008.

Filatov, who represented Russia in the 2008 IIHF World U20 Championship in the Czech Republic (four goals and five assists for nine points in seven games), and was Russia’s best scorer (three plus six in six games) in the U18 Worlds in Kazan in April, told everyone who would listen prior to the draft that he is not under any contractual obligation to CSKA Moscow anymore and that it is his goal to play in North America for the 2008-2009 season. Where ever it may be; the NHL, major junior, pro-minor league, it doesn’t matter.

Filatov, who speaks fluent English (according to reports, he comes from a western-oriented family where his mother is an English teacher), was probably not entirely correct when declaring himself a free-agent. According to officials from the Kontinentalnaya Hokkeyna Liga (KHL), Filatov has one year remaining on his contract with CSKA, for whose A-team in the highest league he played in just five games last season. Filatov spent the rest of the season with CSKA-2 in the third-tier league.

The IIHF has not yet received any confirmation of Filatov’s contractual status, but let’s assume that he is under contract with CSKA. (If he is not, or if he has a legitimate out-clause, and he wants to play in North America, then the rest is simple. He leaves CSKA and we can end the article right here.)

If still under contract with CSKA, Columbus will not be able to sign Filatov. The National Hockey League is committed to respecting existing and legally valid contracts and the league would not allow Columbus to sign the player.

Only six days after Filatov was drafted by the NHL Blue Jackets, he was also drafted by the Ontario Hockey League’s Sudbury Wolves in the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft. The CHL is an umbrella organization for the three Canadian major junior leagues (OHL, QMJHL, WHL) and the three leagues hold their Import Draft (exclusively for non-North American players) together.

This must be taken into account regarding the CHL Import Draft:

  • Any CHL team is permitted to have a maximum of two foreign players on their roster and a foreign player can only be recruited / signed if previously drafted. A “free-agent” signing is not permitted.
  • Since every team has only two import picks, the CHL-teams, prior to the draft, make sure that the player they draft has the ambition to report and to play for the club.

The CHL is very seldom an option for a European who is either good enough to make an immediate jump to the NHL or for a player who has made the decision to stay one or two more years in his European league where he is sure of a roster spot on a top-league club.

So a player like Ilya Kovalchuk (could play immediately in the NHL after being drafted) or a Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin or Anze Kopitar (all front-line players on their European teams) would all tell a CHL-club “don’t bother to draft me” since going down to junior is not really a career path in the right direction for them.

But Filatov is probably in the “neither – nor” category. Since he last season was good only for five games in the highest Russian league, one can assume that he is not NHL-ready yet and it’s also highly unlikely that he so quickly will become a top-six forward on CSKA’s pro team and get plenty of quality ice time.

Given this, Sudbury and the Ontario Hockey League is most probably something that Filatov and his agents are considering at this moment.

But here comes a key question: Can Filatov join Sudbury if he is still under contract with his Russian club?

The answer is yes and no.

NO: Any transfer between a European club and the Canadian Hockey League must be processed through the IIHF on an International Transfer Card (ITC). A transfer is only complete when the ITC has been signed by a) the “old” member national association (in this case the Russian association), b) the “new” member national association (in this case Hockey Canada) c) the player and finally d) the IIHF.

If any of the four parties have a legitimate reason for not signing, the IIHF will not approve the transfer. It is reasonable to assume that CSKA Moscow will not allow the Russian ice hockey federation to sign the ITC while claiming that the player is still under contract and he has not fulfilled his contractual obligations to the club.

YES: It is possible – although not recommendable – that Sudbury and the CHL defy the system and let Filatov play as a “wild-transfer” without a valid ITC. The IIHF can not physically stop the player from joining the club. This would be the responsibility of Hockey Canada. “Wild-transfers” to the CHL don’t happen often, but they happen. One case that springs to mind stems from 2001 when Czech forward Petr Kanko left Sparta Prague for the Kitchener Rangers (OHL) without obtaining an ITC.

Just like it happened to Kanko, Filatov would be “red-flagged” by the IIHF, meaning that he would be suspended for all events organized by the IIHF, including all World Championships, Olympics and club tournaments like the Champions Hockey League. It would up to the IIHF Disciplinary Committee to determine the length of a suspension.

Knowing the consequences, it will be up to Filatov, his family and his agent to make a judgment if a “wild-transfer” is worth the price. Most probably, Filatov would like to be named for the 2009 IIHF World U20 Championship in Ottawa, Canada, this coming season. As a “red-flagged” player, he would not be eligible to play for Russia. Not playing in the “World Juniors” would not be good for his development.

If Filatov is as good as they say, he may want to be considered for Team Russia for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. But if suspended, he would not be able to play there either.

Weighing the pros and cons, it’s not likely that Filatov would risk all this for one season’s play in a junior league, for which he most likely is overqualified. The same penalty would most probably be assessed if Filatov chooses to play in any other league outside the IIHF system (for example any minor-pro league like the AHL, ECHL etc.)

“Red-flagged” players are unfortunately not unusual. Last season, the Russian Super League had 15 players who were suspended for international play by the IIHF. So for example, Russian national team coach Vyacheslav Bykov could not select players like Alexei Kaigorodov, Vadim Khomitski and Andrei Taratukhin for the 2008 World Championship as these players had left the NHL for the Russian league while still under valid contracts with their NHL clubs.

But just because a player is under contract, it doesn’t necessarily mean he must stay. A player can always try to negotiate his own release or the recruiting club can try to negotiate a release fee.

This happens all the time. The Russian KHL clubs continuously approach players who are under contract with other European clubs and the financial resources of the KHL clubs allow them to get them released after having paid a hefty fee.

The other day, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod secured the release of Czech forward Pavel Brendl from Brynas Gavle of the Swedish Elitserien, while on Thursday. Dynamo Riga managed to lure away Czech defenceman Filip Novak from Ceske Budejovice.

Also Swiss club SC Bern managed to negotiate the release of disgruntled Swiss forward Martin Pluss, who despite having two years left of his contract with Swedish club Frolunda, was allowed to leave Gothenburg and move to the Swiss capital.

By looking at Filatov’s options from a purely hockey perspective – and still assuming that he is under contract – the by far best alternative is to stay with CSKA. One more year under the belt in one of the best leagues in Europe would make Filatov a much better player and more ready for the challenges of the NHL, if this is where he wants to play in the future. Maybe he would come to a conclusion that CSKA and the new KHL is the place where he would like to pursue his career.

Regardless of which, playing with and against high-quality veterans would prepare Nikita Filatov better for the rigors of pro hockey than piling up 150 points playing against boys of your own age.

SZYMON SZEMBERG
IIHF Communications Director

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