NHL, Russian Rival Reach Deal

ZURICH -- The NHL reached an agreement with a new Russian hockey league Thursday, temporarily ending the threat of players being lured away by big-money offers.

The pact to respect player contracts across all borders followed offers made last month by teams in Russia's Continental Hockey League -- which begins in September -- to entice Yevgeni Malkin out of the final year of his deal with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was reached at a meeting of the NHL, the NHL Players' Association and international hockey leagues in Zurich, the home of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"Everyone in the room agreed that for the foreseeable future everyone will respect everybody's contracts," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.

The deal was brokered with Russian league founder Alexander Medvedev, who had given his teams a green light to approach players like Malkin.

Medvedev was nominated to the working group that will meet in New York in September in hopes of creating an international transfer agreement to replace the one that lapsed last month after six European leagues backed out. Russia had withdrawn three years ago.

The group will also look at plans to globalize the game, including holding a World Cup in 2012.

"There is no sense to make a war," IIHF president Rene Fasel said. "Everyone agrees we could make a war very easily, but with no winner. The loser will be the game.

"Even if we don't have a transfer agreement today we have a very good understanding of each other."

The European nations -- Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Slovakia and Switzerland -- also want an increase in the $200,000 compensation fee they get when an out-of-contract player leaves for an NHL franchise.

The Continental league, known as the KHL in Russia, will have 24 teams -- including one each in neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan -- that can have five overseas players on a 25-man roster.

"We don't view [the KHL] as a threat," Daly said. "We still believe the best hockey players in the world will continue to want to play in the NHL.

"But having said that, they want to establish a new order and a new league that may one day be broader than Russia," Daly added. "It is an ambitious business plan and it looks like they have capable leadership."

With demand for players likely to drive up salaries, the NHL Players' Union sees the Russian newcomer as a positive development.

"It gives some of our guys another place to play," Players' Union director Paul Kelly said. "It gives them some leverage they might not otherwise have."

"And if a young Russian player wants to come and play in the NHL he should have the freedom to do so."

Kelly said he was having his first meeting with Medvedev, deputy chairman of the world's biggest natural gas supplier, Gazprom.

"Alex is obviously a passionate hockey guy. He has some very firm nationalist ideas, and that is also a good thing," Kelly said.