ST. PETERSBURG, October 3 (RIA Novosti)
Many of hockey’s top stars will quit the NHL for rival competitions if the lockout ends with a pay cut, three-time All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk warned in comments to R-Sport on Wednesday.
New Jersey Devils wing Kovalchuk is among dozens of NHL players to move abroad while the league is paralyzed by the lockout declared September 15 after talks between team owners and the players’ union broke down.
Kovalchuk, who is playing for KHL team SKA St. Petersburg, said players might choose to remain abroad rather than return to less lucrative NHL deals if talks end in compromise.
“If there is any sort of reduction in players’ play, then [NHL owners] risk losing them now,” Kovalchuk said when asked about the NHL’s superstars.
Many top players are mulling permanent moves to the Russia-based KHL or elsewhere, he added.
“I’ve talked with a lot of the guys. We will look very seriously at these options,” he said.
The only reason stars Sidney Crosby and Steve Stemkos have yet to sign lockout deals is that they may be “worried and hesitant about going to Russia,” Kovalchuk added.
Kovalchuk lashed out at the state of the NHL pay talks, saying that negotiators refused to tackle the issue head-on.
“For some reason, they’re still refusing to talk about the serious problems, but instead talk about some borderline issues,” he said.
“It’s hard to say how long it will last.”
Players had called the owners’ bluff by moving abroad, he added.
Kovalchuk has played 779 NHL games for the Devils and the Atlanta Thrashers, racking up 406 goals and 379 assists, and is known to be particularly deadly as a shootout match-winner.
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