Forward Vadim Shipachyov scored a goal in one of the three games that comprised his entire NHL career, and then he was gone. On October 24 the Vegas Golden Knights assigned him to their AHL affiliate in Chicago, but the player did not report and soon after retired from North American play. He has since signed with SKA in the KHL, and we’re still sorting through the wake of his exit.
On Saturday morning, KHL reporter Aivis Kalniņš finally shared Shipachyov’s side of the story.
Shipachyov was the Knights’ first signing back in May, a top-six feather in the cap of new general manager George McPhee, who already had some renown for his management of Russian players from his time in Washington.
Updated Golden Knights Lines😉
Guy-Vadim Shipachyov-Reid Duke
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) May 5, 2017
The Shipachyov story, up until today, went like this: he did not play well, so he was assigned to the AHL. Shipachyov refused to report to the AHL team in Chicago and instead quit the league altogether.
General Manager George McPhee addressing media post practice. “Vadim Shipachyov has voluntarily retired from the NHL.” Shipachyov is eligible to play in the KHL immediately. Team recoups pro rated amount of the signing bonus, his salary is off the team’s books.
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 9, 2017
While hockey orthodoxy might assume that a star Russian player would refuse to play in the AHL out of a sense of pride and entitlement, the Knights did not make that argument. Instead, McPhee told the Las Vegas Sun that Shipachyov had a personal reason not to play in Chicago:
He came back home (to Las Vegas) to be with his wife because neither of them speak English. It was hard for her. So he reported and then came back.
Ultimately, the player forfeited his signing bonus, returned to Russia, and inked a deal with SKA. It was apparently a bold experiment by McPhee that just did not work out. But here’s how Shipachyov saw it, as transcribed by freelance KHL reporter Aivis Kalniņš:
There weren’t any problems with training, I was told they count on me. Before the season’s start, I was told by the general manager [George McPhee] that they need to send a player to the AHL, and that I am that man. He said for me to help them in order to trade defensemen, and then I will make my debut. On game day, they called me to say that they didn’t have time to get business done, and that I had to play in the AHL. Face to face I was told one thing, but when it came to hockey, the story changed.
[…] I was told to go to the AHL, but I was immediately given a transfer card. In doing so, they let me know that I need to search for a new team. I read what was being written, and I didn’t understand what was happening. It was like they wanted me to cancel my contract.
Vegas didn’t search for other options, despite it being the better option for them. They obviously wanted me to cancel the contract and give them the money. I saw that they said I didn’t come to the game, even though there wasn’t a morning skate.
Also, I heard that if I play well in the AHL, I still won’t be played in the first team. After all of this, I decided that I didn’t want to be there. My agent spoke with the general manager, they agreed that we need a few day to search for a new team. Because of that, I left Chicago for Las Vegas. McPhee didn’t tell the Chicago Wolves about that discussion, so it was assumed I left the team on purpose.
In the press, there was a story that I travelled to my wife because she doesn’t speak English. Where did that come from? I spoke with my family at home, and after months of uncertainty, smiles, discussions which didn’t have anything to do with reality, we decided to give them the money and return to Russia.
There had been differing reports as to why McPhee initially assigned Shipachyov to the AHL. McPhee himself said that Shipachyov had been an on-ice disappointment; but other reports characterized the demotion as purely a paper transaction: Vegas had exceeded their carrying capacity. Shipachyov’s own account favors that latter explanation, which makes sense considering that he had been around a point-per-game player in Russia, while Vegas has Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on their active roster.
Somewhat infamously, Vegas had chosen not to load up on goalies during the expansion draft, selecting instead a hoard of defensemen. This could have been a brilliant move if a) any Vegas goalie could stay healthy, and b) McPhee could make deals to trade those defensemen. That did not happen. Vegas has been rumored to be working a deal with the beat-up Anaheim Ducks, whose injuries affect all positions including defenseman Cam Fowler (out since October 20), but no deal has materialized yet. Washington is also short-staffed on the blue line, going without number-one defenseman Matt Niskanen since October 13, and the Caps have been reportedly linked to Vegas, but no deal has occurred.
Shipachyov saying that McPhee “didn’t have time to get business done” is unfortunately resonant for the former Capitals GM, whose failure to make big trades including defensemen contributed to Caps ownership’s decision not to renew his contract and became his successor’s first imperative, leading to the signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen in summer 2014.
Importantly, Shipachyov challenges the notion that he refused to play in Chicago. Instead, Shipachyov says there was no morning skate to report to, and he had been told by McPhee via his agent to find a new contract on his own instead of playing. Except McPhee allegedly did not share this information with the Chicago Wolves, leading to the initial “failure to report” story and making the player look bad.
That miscommunication is just one in a string of mistreatment alleged by Shipachyov. The Russian forward also criticized McPhee regarding what he was told of his role on the team (“Face to face I was told one thing, but when it came to hockey, the story changed.”), the team’s refusal to make a trade involving him (“Vegas didn’t search for other options, despite it being the better option for them”), his alleged failure to report (“I saw that they said I didn’t come to the game, even though there wasn’t a morning skate”), and even his wife’s unhappiness in the US (“there was a story that I travelled to my wife because she doesn’t speak English”). That last story, about Shipachyov’s wife, came directly from McPhee.
To hear it from him, Shipachyov was pressured into terminating his contract all along, and poor treatment from McPhee was just how that pressure was applied. It’s a bad look for McPhee, who until now had enjoyed a reputation as a “good guy” manager who looked out for his players, finding deals for the ones who have requested trades. He may have to answer here.
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