Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Nikita Zadorov and three leagues, none of which are best for him

Reprinted with permission from

Thanks to Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald, light was shed upon the Nikita Zadorov dilemma yesterday.

Going back to last Friday, Sabres head coach Ted Nolan was asked about the dilemma but he said that he couldn't "answer that question straight up." Zadorov has been a healthy scratch through the first six games of the season, but was not sent back to his junior team, the London Knights. Questions were being raised, and all that Nolan could say was that the team was "trying to do the best with the situation."

That situation has Zadorov as not quite ready for the NHL. He should be playing in the American Hockey League. But, as we know all too well, the agreement between the Canadian Hockey League and the NHL has no provisions for allowing 19 yr. old CHL/NHL tweeners an opportunity to develop at the AHL level. It's deja vu all over again for the Buffalo Sabres as they went through this same situation last season with Mikhail Grigorenko.

But there's a twist with "Big Z" this year.

According to his agent, Rolland Hedges (via the Hoppe piece,) St. Petersburg of the KHL owns Zadorov's rights and the team will not release him to his junior team. They allowed it last season, but this year they won't meaning the defenseman, as of right now, either plays with the Buffalo Sabres or heads to Mother Russia under the control of St. Pete. And that's why Buffalo has been "stashing him away" for the first six games of the season as they try to figure it out.

(A quick aside, word today is that CSKA Moscow may be the owner of Zadorov's rights)

The Sabres seemed to be in a pickle when the Hoppe article quoted this from Hedges, “[Zadorov] just wants to play hockey, whether it’s for the Buffalo Sabres or whoever owns his rights. He knows who owns his rights. He knows he has to go back to Russia. He has no control in that.”

That was before today when Buffalo AGM Mark Jakubowski, via a tweet from Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, said that "[Zadorov] is under contract with London and that's the only place we can send him."

Perhaps Jakubowski can relay that message to Hedges so that he can get that through to the powers that be in the KHL as it would seem a legal document, such as a contract, would supersede simple "rights" to a drafted player. But that's what attorney's are for.

What we're left with is a player caught in a tug of war between three hockey leagues, none of which is best for the player. "From a development point of view," Hedges was quoted as saying, "the issue is what’s best for Nikita Zadorov. Everybody has a different answer for that one.”

And a reason why they have said answer.

For the Sabres, they drafted him and they want to keep a close eye on his development, especially after he came into camp with conditioning issues. Zadorov has stated time and again that he wants to play in the NHL, but he still doesn't know what it takes to be able to play in the NHL. He's learning that now. The club is investing the time and money and look at him as a big piece of their future. To lose Zadorov would be a pretty good blow to the depth of the organization.

The London Knights are off to a slow start and could use Zadorov's presence on the back end. The whole reason for the CHL/NHL agreement is to maintain a quality CHL product by keeping the best players it can on the ice. Both the Knights and the league would love to see him back.

Mother Russia would love to have a defenseman like "Big Z" and would pay handsomely to have him in the KHL.

And, a cut of Zadorov's salary, of course, would go to Hedges, his agent. Right now Hedges isn't making very much in Zadorov's case and it sounds as if he's trying to push the issue.

But for Zadorov, it's not about money. Or at least that's what he's been saying since being drafted by the Buffalo Sabres with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 draft. He has said repeatedly that he "wanted to play in the best league in the world, the NHL."

Zadorov appeared on Hockey Hotline with Kevin Sylvester soon after he was drafted and was asked about any pressure from back home and the potential lure of the KHL. He said that it was the most "popular question for [a] Russian" at the NHL Combine. "Every team asked me this question," he said. "They asked, 'If you play in here (in North America) for a couple more years and you don't make it to an NHL team, and a KHL team asks you if you want to come and get some money. Like a lot of money?' [would he leave?]"

He told the guys on the Hotline that his answer was, "You guys don't have money here?

It was a poignant statement in the form of a question that was delivered with child-like simplicity. And it came from a young man who knows the ropes but refuses to get caught up in them.

Jakubowski returned St. Petersburg's serve with his statement today and it looks as if this issue is far from being resolved. Right now Zadorov is with the team on the west coast. Whether he plays or not is up to the coaching staff.

Zadorov has been consistent in his statement about wanting to play in "the best league in the world." There's no reason to believe he's blowing smoke. In fact there's an honesty about him that makes it seem as if he's incapable of doing something like that.

If he wants to play in the NHL and he has a contract with the London Knights, a team who would love to have him back, it's up to Hedges to "do what's best for his development" and get this issue resolved with St. Petersburg.

Until then, Zadorov is be sticking with the Sabres as a healthy scratch, although he is getting practice time with the team. The Sabres know full well his desire to play in the NHL. Everyone wants to. But at this point in his development, Zadorov doesn't know what it takes to play in the NHL.

Now, even though he's not played in a game this season, not only is he learning what it takes to play in the NHL, but he's also learning about some of the B.S. that can come with the job.

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