Yesterday, the LA Kings quietly announced the signing of two Russian prospects, center Viatcheslav Voinov and defenseman Andrei Loktionov, who spent last season playing in the Russian Super League. Earlier today, the KHL issued a statement declaring that both players were still under contract with their KHL clubs and that as a result, the KHL was abrogating the moratorium against signing players still under contract with NHL clubs -- with a proviso. Here's the translation, courtesy of the folks at Beyond the Blueshirts:
The Continental Hockey League strictly adhered to the unilaterally declared moratorium on the invitation of hockey players with operating contracts with clubs of the National Hockey League. The NHL has violated the agreement reached earlier in Zurich and on August 28th announced the completion of contracts with hockey players Andrei Loktionov and Vyatcheslav Voinov by the Los Angeles Kings. The specified players have operating contracts with KHL clubs Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl) and Traktor (Chelyabinsk), respectively.
In connection with this the KHL considers itself free of any obligations with respect to the observance of the earlier announced moratorium on the transfer of players. On September 6th at the headquarters of the International Ice Hockey Federation in Zurich a meeting will take place on this topic, after which the Continental Hockey League will define subsequent actions in relation to the National Hockey League.
On one level, this announcement shouldn't come as a complete shock. Back in July at Inside the Kings, Rich Hammond reported that both players had been threatened and challenged as they sought to get out of their respective contracts. According to Russian labor law, a player can terminate a contract by providing 30 days notice and paying a buyout fee, though there's no report anywhere I can find confirming either player had done so. Then again, as Stu Hackel points out at Slap Shot, it's hard to imagine that the Kings would go ahead with any signing without believing the players were free and clear.
So what's next? As I've seen personally, predicting the future when it comes to the KHL is fraught with risk. But while the details may change along the road to international hockey war or peace, one thing seems clear to me: The KHL will not accede to any agreement without the NHL making some sort of material concession to their positions.
UPDATE: According to an interview LA General Manager Dean Lombardi gave to Hammond earlier this Summer, the Kings were confident both these players were free and clear, otherwise they wouldn't have drafted them in the first place.
Thanks to RudyKelly at Battle of California for the pointer.