The Montreal Canadiens lashed out at Pavel Valentenko on Friday, suspending the defenceman without pay after he left the organization to sign with a Russian club.
Valentenko, who was in the second year of his three-year, entry-level contract with the Canadiens, had been playing for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. But on Thursday, Dynamo Moscow of the Continental Hockey League (KHL) said on its website that it had signed the hometown product to a three-year deal.
Rolland Hedges, Valentenko's Ottawa-based agent, said his client took the deal at the urging of his family.
Before joining the Bulldogs, Valentenko played two seasons with Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the Russian Super League, the precursor to the KHL.
Earlier this month, Valentenko left the Bulldogs after the Canadiens gave him permission to return home to Russia for an indefinite period of time to deal with family issues.
The Canadiens made no further comment Friday, but an NHL spokesman says the league has raised the issue with the International Ice Hockey Federation. Valentenko will also need clearance from the Russian Hockey Federation before he can play for Dynamo in the KHL, according to Hedges.
The NHL is currently without an agreement with the Russian federation on player transfers, and the two sides remain at odds over last summer's signing of Alexander Radulov. The forward bailed on the final year of his contract with the Nashville Predators to sign a three-year deal reportedly worth $13 million US with Russian club Salavat Ufa.
The NHL and KHL agreed to go to binding arbitration to settle the Radulov case, but the process is stalled because the Russians insist it be held in their country while the NHL wants it to go to an international court in Switzerland.
The IIHF suspended Radulov from international play on July 18 and the Predators banned him for the 2008-09 season on Sept 2.
Supporting his family
Valentenko, a fifth-round pick in the 2006 NHL draft, was seen as one of Montreal's most NHL-ready defensive prospects. A stay-at-home blue-liner with a hard shot, he had one goal and 17 assists in 61 games for Hamilton.
Hedges said Valentenko did not want to return to Russia, but he supports his entire family on his hockey earnings and was unable to do that on an AHL salary.
With his signing bonus plus a salary of $62,500, he was earning about $150,000 per season with Hamilton, before taxes. Without revealing a salary figure, Hedges said he would earn "substantially more" and with no taxes in Russia.
"His goal was to play in the NHL, but financially, playing in the AHL wasn't cutting it," said Hedges. "He was very upset at doing this.
"He came over here to make the NHL. He didn't just run home. He had to do it. He knows he shouldn't have done what he did contractually, but he had to. It's not a Radulov situation."
Hedges said Valentenko has been supporting his family since he was 15, and took a pay cut to pursue his NHL dream when he signed with Montreal before the 2007-08 season.