A few days after the Toronto Maple Leafs announced the signing of one of the KHL’s top young players Nikita Soshnikov from the Atlant Moscow Region, some interesting details about the move have come up.
Via Maple Leafs Hot Stove, here’s what Leafs’ Director of player personnel Mark Hunter had to say about the move.
We got a lead from Evgeny Namestnikov, who we hired as a scout for us over in Russia. He said come over to watch this young man who he liked a lot, who he coached.
The Maple Leafs hired Namestnikov, a former NHL player and father of current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vlad, to scout for them while working as an assistant coach for Soshnikov’s Atlant. This went mostly unnoticed in North America, but Russia’s top hockey reporter Alexei Shevchenko, after confirming Namestnikov’s double affiliation, referred to situation as “awkward.”
I think what the Leafs did was an unfair practice and requires an NHL investigation regarding its legality and possibly prohibiting it in the future.
Evgeny Namestnikov entered a contractual relationship with two clubs in two different leagues. Scouts do not only watch players; they also communicate with them. Thus, it’s possible that Namestnikov’s advice to the player he coaches would’ve significantly hurt his employer’s (Atlant) chance of retaining him in favour of his other employer (the Leafs). It sounds like more of a KHL problem, but the same situation could potentially work the other way around: what if a KHL club hired an NHL assistant coach and that’d allow them to gain an edge on the NHL teams in pursuit of players? Such a conflict of interest and informal affiliation with the clubs outside of the NHL-AHL-ECHL system could undermine the integrity of the coaching or front office staff.
Atlant didn’t challenge the move (Soshnikov’s NHL contract kicks in next season but at the time of the signing he was still under a KHL contract where he’ll become a restricted free agent come May 1), so it’s pretty safe to say they didn’t have a problem with their coach working for an NHL team, especially considering Atlant is the most financially-troubled KHL franchise and is rumoured to be leaving the league as soon as this summer.
Namestnikov’s affiliation with the Leafs gave them an unfair advantage over other NHL teams. It’s almost certain that the Leafs were not the only club in pursuit of Soshnikov. However, having their scout embedded in the player’s current team undoubtedly provided them with an inside track to secure Soshnikov’s services. The stories of people getting drafted or signed due to the ties their relatives had with NHL managers aren’t uncommon (for example, the Caps drafted Jakub Vrana in part due to their scout Vojtech Kucera’s long-standing familiarity with the player). But in this situation the Leafs used a professional, not personal, affiliation with the player. As of right now, Namestnikov is still a member of Atlant’s coaching staff.
I would like to think the NHL would be interested in regulating such situations, for example by prohibiting NHL teams to hire personnel already hired by other professional hockey teams. The NHL CBA is pretty strict about regulating the way front offices conduct their business, but it might be time to add one more rule.
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