Here’s what Dean Lombardi had to say about the two Russian players, defenseman Vjateslav Voinov and center Andrei Loktionov, the Kings drafted this weekend. The concern with Russian players has been whether NHL teams would be able to sign them and bring them to North America. Lombardi explains why, even though both players are under contract in Russia, he’s confident they will play in North America next season.
Lombardi said: “Yeah, I think the first thing with Voinov, as with Loktionov, was that Solly (Jeff Solomon, director of hockey operations) did all the background work to make sure these kids were coming here. That’s the big question with all the Russians. It’s very different than in the past, when you could always offer a better opportunity and a bigger contract. That’s the case with Russia anymore. So if you draft a kid, you’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that he has to really want to play here, because you’re not going to be able to bribe him with money.
“Then, I don’t know if you know all the background, with the Russians trying to get all these kids to sign five-year deals, but that’s a whole other issue. It doesn’t make sense for us to take them — you might take a flier on a guy in a later round — unless they’re committed to coming over here and player either junior hockey or in the minors. The thing about Voinov is, he’s a good player, a good prospect. He’s a right-shot defenseman and he’s one of the top defensemen on that Russian team, but if he wasn’t committed to coming here then it wouldn’t make sense (to draft him). All our researched showed that he’d even be willing to play junior hockey, if he had to.
“A lot of kids will say, `Well, I’m not going over until I’m ready for the NHL.’ Well, this kid was prepared to play junior hockey and give up that five-year contract, with a lot of money. That told us a lot, in terms of his desire to play here. So we just stepped up and took him. Same with Loktionov. It’s kind of interesting, because he’s from (Igor) Larionov’s hometown and he was actually at our rink two weeks ago with Larionov. Larionov has kind of taken him under his wing. If he’s half as smart as Larionov on the ice, he’s going to be a good player. He’s also another one who is committed to playing over here this year, whether it’s juniors or the NHL.
“What you’ve got now in Russia is, the contracts they have… Like I said, we had to get all this down before the draft. It’s getting all the rules and talking to the agents, as far as what the kid wants to do. In Russia, the contract can be broken if you give notice. It’s weird for us because in our society, a contract is a contract. But in Russia, you can sign a three-year contract and, if you give notice, the contract is no good after 30 days. For us, even I would say, `Well, what good is the contract?’ But it’s a different society. So those kids can give notice.
“Then with those five-year contracts they’re trying to get the kids to sign, (they say) `OK, the 30-day rule applies, but if you give us notice you have to pay us a lot of money.’ So, they’re trying to keep their own players. They have a lot of money, unlike the past. It actually reflects what’s going on in their society, going from communism to capitalism. It makes for an interesting study in itself. So, he does have a contract, but if he gives a 30-day notice, he can go. If he signs a five-year contract, he would have to pay a lot of money (to break it). As long as he stays away from that, he can sign with a NHL team.