Excluding Alexander Galchenyuk who is of Belarusan descent and born in Milwaukee, the Canadiens have four players of Russian heritage on their negotiation list. . Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin play in Montreal, Alexander Avtsin has played in Hamilton the last two years and Maxim Trunev remains in Russia.
It is interesting to note the career paths that each of these players has taken. Markov was drafted by the Canadiens when the KHL was known as the Russian Super League and, at that time, didn’t offer the financial incentives it does now for a Russian player to remain at home.
The highly skilled Avtsin, at the age of 23, is entering his third year with the Hamilton Bulldogs clearly dedicated to pursuing an NHL career despite early difficulties in adapting to the North American game.
Based on Trunev’s production in the KHL, it’s unlikely he’ll even attempt an NHL career.
It is Emelin who supplies the fascinating backstory. The June 30th announcement that he had signed a two year contract at two-million per season elicited little comment despite the fact that, going into his second year in North America, Emelin had more than doubled his 2011-2012 contract.
The career path Emelin took to reach the NHL could be held up as a roadmap for middle of the road Europeans, especially Russians. Whether he followed this route by accident or on the advice of agent Don Meehan and his Russian associates is open to conjecture but it can be held up to those who are below superstar status who want to maximize career earning potential. And despite appearances on the Russian under-18 and under-20 National teams, Emelin was hardly mentioned in the same breath as Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin. Emelin was drafted by the Canadiens third round – 84th overall in 2004. Normally, the Canadiens would have wanted Emelin to join their Hamilton farm team when he was twenty, if not earlier. Being informed that AHL salaries are generally around 65-thousand a year and probably facing at least three years with the Bulldogs before getting a hard look from the Canadiens, Emelin opted to stay in the KHL where his pay and his tax benefits would at least quadruple whatever Hamilton had to offer. (Even if he elected to come directly to the NHL at the age of 23 his paycheck would have been limited by the NHL’s entry level contracts and then two years of restricted free agency)
So, while the Canadiens retained his North American rights, Emelin played three years with Lada Togliatti and four more with Ak Bars Kazan and as a three time member of the Russian team at the World Championships, Emelin was paid top KHL money.
Two years ago, the Canadiens thought they had persuaded him to take an NHL shot but, faced with another two years of entry level contracts Emelin again turned them down.
The time was ripe last summer. Emelin was now 25, which is the final year the Canadiens could control his rights and as a 25-year-old the league could impose only one year of restricted free agency on him. The Canadiens paid him 984 thousand dollars in his rookie NHL season. As a restricted free agent, he doubled his paycheck for the coming season, and after the two-year four million dollar deal expires in 2014, he will be an unrestricted free agent. (Ovechkin and Malkin did not get contracts over a million dollars until their fourth overall season). If he continues on the path he’s on, Emelin will making the kind of money Josh Gorges earns when his current contract expires.
It should be noted that, as financially sound as Emelin’s career decisions have been, he could never be considered a mercenary in a Canadiens uniform. He played his rookie NHL season with passion and confidence. He was a good teammate. And he was repaid with a guaranteed four million dollar contract over the next two years.