Medvedev: Friend or foe?
IIHF president Rene Fasel says Russian billionaire can be 'difficult'
It appears there is a fox loose in international hockey's hen house.
The fox is Alexander Medvedev, the Russian billionaire who has shown he is anything but a team player since he was elected to the International Ice Hockey Federation's executive council a year ago.
"He is difficult," says IIHF president Rene Fasel.
Medvedev is president of Russia's fledgling Kontinental Hockey League and does not hide his animosity towards the NHL. He openly encourages NHL players, and in particular Russians, not to honour their NHL contracts and play instead for teams in the KHL.
The IIHF is negotiating a transfer agreement for its member federations whereby European clubs would be paid set fees as compensation for player development.
The Russians, however, are not part of the talks and Medvedev favours a model similar to European soccer, where teams receive huge sums of money when a player leaves one team for another.
It wasn't by coincidence then that Medvedev was the only IIHF council member who opposed provisions that would tighten up rules on how Europe and the NHL respect each other's contracts.
Under the old IIHF regulations, players could break contracts and resume playing immediately for a new club in another league without facing serious sanctions. This came to light in the case of Alexander Radulov, who left Nashville of the NHL for Salavat of the KHL despite being under a valid and binding contract.
The IIHF has rewritten its rules to prevent such cases and to be able to enforce sanctions against players, associations and clubs that violate the transfer regulations.
The new rules also carry a catalogue of sanctions toward players, associations and clubs that allow players to play within their system without an approved international transfer card.
A player who breaks the rules will be suspended from playing for his European club for four months.
Where was Medvedev when this change was under discussion? On the balcony of a swank hotel, talking on his cellphone.
The IIHF last week also adopted a number of rule changes that bring their rulebook more in line with the NHL, and agreed that these changes will be in effect for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games.
The only member of the 60-plus federations in the IIHF to oppose this was Russia.
Favours pan-European league
Medvedev is also the main financial backer of the Champions Hockey League, which is modelled along soccer's Champions League.
The IIHF says it will make a decision on the future of the CHL by June 10 and the buzz at the world championship was that Medvedev is all in favour of its demise. Medvedev favours a pan-European league, along the lines of the NHL.
It's said he will do all he can to stop the NHL from getting a foothold in Europe and he will meet with teams in Sweden in June about matters of common interest.
European officials are wary of Medvedev, who is a passionate hockey fan. He also sponsors an old-timers team that travels and plays games all around the world.
Several European officials say he is their version of Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie, who is trying to purchase the Phoenix Coyotes.
Fasel was asked whether Medvedev's positions make him a friend or foe on the IIHF council.
"It is difficult, for sure," said Fasel.