The Buffalo Sabres have managed to fall victim to the NHL’s agreement with the CHL yet again as they’re stuck in limbo regarding defenseman Nikita Zadorov.
Zadorov’s predicament is quite unique as Bill Hoppe reported this weekend. If you haven’t read Hoppe’s report, do it now. He did a great job digging up the information on Zadorov lacking the release from the Russian club that owns his rights which is preventing him from being sent back to London. Hoppe’s report is an all-encompassing recap of the various issues at play regarding Zadorov’s fate.
Hoppe’s report illustrates the precarious situation the Sabres are in as the CHL agreement comes into play along with the added confusion from St. Petersburg holding some control over where Zadorov can go. It leaves the Sabres with very few options.
The situation is even cloudier when you consider that the Dallas Stars were able to find a loophole that allowed them to send Julius Honka to the AHL despite selecting him from Swift Current in the AHL. This report from Defending Big D notes that Honka was loaned to Swift Current from JYP after he had signed a contract with the SM-Liga club. Because Honka was on loan with Swift Current he was considered a European skater as opposed to a North American skater. It appears this is not true for Zadorov.
What I’m unclear on – and what seems to be one of the overarching questions – is Zadorov’s status with SKA and why he wouldn’t qualify for the same loophole as Honka.
Zadorov played for CSKA Moscow prior to heading to London to play in the OHL and it would appear his rights were later traded or otherwise acquired by SKA. Based on my read of the situation I would assume that is why he wouldn’t qualify for the same exemption as Honka. I’m somewhat surprised that the Sabres haven’t tried to take the league to task on this as the situation between Zadorov and the Sabres and Honka and the Stars does share a few very similar traits. Of course, there are some stark differences as well.
Ultimately, the Sabres have been done in by the NHL/CHL agreement again and are struggling to find an out; and that’s truly the root of the issue here.
Buffalo, again, has a prized prospect who has outgrown and outperformed the CHL. Yet due to his age and the NHL/CHL agreement he is stuck in limbo as the additional issues caused by the KHL and SKA simply make matters more complicated.
As I wrote last season, the flaws that exist in the NHL/CHL agreement helped lead to the massive mismanagement of Mikhail Grigorenko and the issue exists yet again this year. Particularly in a situation such as this, where a European club has added another layer of complication in the final assignment of a prospect, some sort of exceptional player status needs to be created within the NHL/CHL agreement.
Creating such an exemption would be very complicated as simply measuring statistics wouldn’t be nearly enough to make a determination. Further, the protection for CHL clubs would need to exist so that every single first round pick wasn’t simply granted exceptional status and sent to the AHL. This would need to be a nuanced system that allows for each league and party to weigh in before a final decision is made.
My pitch last year was to create a board of NHL, AHL and CHL officials who would hear each application for an AHL exemption for the year. I stand by that point of view as the board members would have the final say after hearing the NHL club and perhaps the player’s agent offer up their evidence and arguments for earning the proper status.
Clearly there is an opportunity to improve this agreement, especially as drafted players grow out of their junior leagues faster and faster. The Sabres are hardly the only team who could benefit from this and it’s time the league took notice.