Nashville Predators forward Alex Radulov was one of six players whose new contracts were suspended by hockey's international governing body on Friday until the legality of the deals could be investigated.
Radulov, under contract for another season with the Predators, signed a contract with a Russian team in the new Continental Hockey League (KHL). That deal seemingly would be in breach of a pact agreed to July 10 between the KHL, the NHL, the NHL Players' Association, and international hockey leagues in which contracts worldwide would be honored and respected.
But the KHL contends the deal between Radulov and his KHL team was reached two days before the leagues agreed to obey existing contracts.
"It's irrelevant whether there was an agreement or not, the man has a contract with an NHL club," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press on Friday. "They should have been respecting contracts. We have historically always respected contracts regardless of who those contracts are with.
"We have made it very, very clear that if Radulov isn't returned, if his contract isn't voided and he isn't returned to Nashville, we have no interest in sitting down at the table, no interest in cooperating, no interest in doing anything with the KHL."
The International Ice Hockey Federation told the NHL, the NHLPA and the KHL that the international transfers of Radulov and five others are officially under investigation.
Nikita Filatov, Viktor Tikhonov, Jason Krog, Tomas Mojzis and Fedor Fedorov are also having their deals reviewed. All parties have until July 31 to submit documentation to the IIHF.
"We hope that this can be resolved amicably and in a timely manner," IIHF president Rene Fasel said Friday in a statement. "It is unfortunate that we are already facing such difficulties after the progress that was made last week.
"I am hoping that all sides can come to a solution."
Problems arose due to the lack of a transfer agreement between the NHL and KHL. A signing moratorium was established after representatives from the NHL, NHLPA, and IIHF met last week in Zurich, Switzerland, but the deal has yet to be signed.
KHL president Alexander Medvedev said his league would agree to backdate its agreement with the NHL to July 10, but not beyond that. The sides also had discussions in May about respecting valid contracts.
The six players won't be eligible to participate in international transfers and competitions while the investigation is ongoing.
A conference call was held Thursday night between the IIHF, the NHL and the KHL regarding the suspensions.
"I support their interest in helping the parties to try to find a resolution to the issues," Daly said. "Clearly, we don't want to abdicate the right to determine a player's contractual status and his eligibility to play in our league. That's our issue. Having said that, we want to be clearly transparent because there is nothing to hide here.
"The facts are the facts. If a player has a valid contractual obligation somewhere else, he shouldn't be playing here and vice versa."
The NHL requires its teams to provide proof that a player is free of any existing contracts before the league will register a new deal. Despite the KHL's position that Filatov, Tikhonov, Mojzis, and Fedorov, are under contract in Russia, Daly said the NHL has documentation stating that they were clear of obligation.
Krog's deal holds a provision that allows him to get out of his contract for an offer than exceeds $600,000.
"All these players were free to sign in the NHL," Daly said.
Filatov was chosen by the Columbus Blue Jackets with the No. 6 pick in the first round of the June draft and recently agreed to terms on an entry level NHL contract. Tikhonov, chosen No. 28 by Phoenix, came to terms with the Coyotes. Both players' Russian teams say they already had deals in place.
"I believe an investigation is necessary," Medvedev told the AP by telephone from Moscow, "but there is no legal ground for a suspension in the absence of a transfer agreement."
The decision ultimately could be decided in Russian and U.S. courtrooms, where the NHL has won previously in similar matters.
"In order to have rules we need to sign an agreement," Medvedev said. "Without a signed agreement, we are in a legal vacuum which could be treated differently than what is actually happening. I can return Radulov, but when I say to return my boys, nobody can hear."
Krog, an NHL veteran, signed with Vancouver after he reportedly came to terms with a team in Russia. Mojzis, who played last season in Russia, has a new deal with the Minnesota Wild.
At the Zurich meeting, the groups agreed not to sign players under contractual obligations. A committee was formed to draft a document that would specify the terms of such an agreement, including the handling of possible disagreements regarding the validity of contracts.