New deal ends possible hockey boycott from Russians

MOSCOW -- Russia is expected to reluctantly sign a new transfer agreement brokered by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the NHL on Saturday, ending a two-year boycott that threatened to throw the sport into chaos.

Representatives of the NHL, NHL Players' Association, the IIHF and the seven top European player-producing nations will meet at a downtown Moscow hotel to the hammer out the final details of a pact that will reportedly pay European clubs
$200,000 for every player signed by an NHL team.

According to reports, the 30 NHL clubs will contribute $10-$12 million annually to a transfer pool that will be administered by the IIHF.

The current agreement signed in 2005 expires this year.

"The basic proposal is in place and to that there should not be many changes," IIHF spokesman Symon Szemberg told Reuters at the ice hockey world championship. "But you don't know if this proposal will result in a signed agreement.

"We are pretty sure the other European nations, apart from Russia, are eager to sign."

But ice hockey sources are confident Russia Ice Hockey Federation president and Hall of Fame goaltender Vladislav Tretiak has finally convinced member teams to agree to the pact.

While the IIHF also remains optimistic an accord will be reached, the Russia Ice Hockey Federation has balked at signing agreements at the last second in the past.

The IIHF believed it was close to getting the Russian Federation on board at last year's world championship but were rebuffed by hard-line owners of elite Russian league clubs, who demanded millions of dollars in compensation for losing top
players such as Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin.

The lack of an agreement has resulted in several court cases on both sides of the Atlantic.

Russian teams launched law suits in American courts in an attempt to block Ovechkin, Semin and Malkin from playing in the NHL.

The case of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nikolai Zherdev went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland after his former club CSKA Moscow argued he was still obliged to perform military service.

All four cases ended in favour of the player and the NHL, leaving the Russian clubs with no compensation.

"The NHL wants to avoid litigation at all cost and if we have a deal people don't go to court," said Szemberg.

The absence of an agreement will not affect the 2010 Winter Olympics but could present problems that prevent players from competing at world championships and international events.