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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

With NHL Adrift, Russians Return

Three Russian players in the National Hockey League are scheduled to rejoin their former Moscow teams Sunday in what is believed to be the first professional appearance by Russian players who have left their country for the NHL.

In addition, the CSKA Russian Penguins are negotiating with the Vancouver Canucks' Pavel Bure in an effort to bring the marquee scorer back to the CSKA Ice Palace.

Russian hockey is capitalizing on the North American league's labor woes to lure its native players back from the United States and Canada for regular-season and charity games. The league has postponed the scheduled Oct. 1 start of the season until a contract can be worked out with the players' union. No agreement is in sight.

The arrival of the Russians back on the domestic scene is likely to give a spur to fan interest and the teams which they left to pursue riches abroad following the collapse of communism.

Archrivals Spartak and Dinamo say they will have the first returnees back on the ice when they play Sunday night. Spartak vice president Gelani Tovbulatov said Thursday that Vitaly Prokhorov of the San Jos? Sharks and Nikolai Barsetsky of the Toronto Maple Leafs would arrive in Moscow on Friday and play in Sunday's game. The New York Rangers' Alexander Karpovtsev has already returned and will suit up for Dinamo, according to the club president Alexander Steblin.

"Karpovtsev's experience will encourage the young players," Steblin said. "And, I'm sure, Dinamo's fans will be excited to see their favorite player again."

John Rosasco, assistant director of communications for the New York Rangers, said Wednesday in a telephone interview that the club was not enthusiastic about Karpovtsev's departure. But, "You can't tell them they can't do it," he said, since they are not under contract to the team.More Russian players may soon be on their way.

Igor Larionov of the San Jos? Sharks said at a pickup practice at San Jos? State University in California on Wednesday that he was preparing to leave for Russia next week to play in a charity exhibition tournament next month being organized by the Russian Hockey Federation.

"It would be great to play with a lot of old friends, and to see the fans as well," said Larionov, who last played in Russia five years ago.

The Detroit Red Wings' Sergei Federov, last year's NHL Most Valuable Player, Sergei Makarov of the Sharks and Bure are other NHL stars on the billing for the Nov. 4 to 14 charity all-star tournament, the Russian daily Sport Express reported.

Concerns of the Russian players center on insurance and transportation. "The insurance is very important to us as players," said Larionov, since injuries could prevent them rejoining their NHL teams.

But Larionov expected those hurdles would be worked out and said he was looking forward to playing in the planned six-game tournament, which comes during a scheduled hiatus in the Russian Inter-State Hockey League season.

It is likely that any players who come back will only compete on a game-by-game basis, pending the outcome of the NHL negotiations.

Even though compensation for regular-season games would be a far cry from NHL levels, players likely would be drawn by the chance to stay in shape, as long as insurance can be provided. Spartak's Tovbulatov did not discuss financial terms or insurance for the players he signed, saying only that "everyone will be satisfied."

CSKA Russian Penguins assistant general manager Mark Kelly said he was "optimistic" that Bure would return to play regular-season games, although negotiations are still in progress. The main stumbling block would be an estimated $60,000 to $100,000 insurance policy on Bure's $25 million, multi-year Vancouver contract, which Kelly said he hoped could be picked up by a corporate sponsor.

"If Bure comes back and plays, maybe I'll come out of retirement," Kelly, a former minor league and Austrian league player, joked in his excitement at the idea of Bure anchoring lines with the team's current forwards.

--Jay Janini in San Jose, California, contributed to this report.