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KHL taking initial steps to long-term relationship

by Shawn P. Roarke
TORONTO -- NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly believes that the 2010 Molson World Hockey Summit can create the dialogue that will foster long-term gains for the sport.

"I think the dialogue is good," Daly said as the four-day summit opened Monday with a series of hot-stove discussions at the Hockey Hall of Fame. "You are talking about all the people, all the real decision makers in the sport of hockey; not just in North America, but from around the world. I think anytime you can share a stage and have a dialogue on the issues facing the game, only good can come from that. And, I expect that dialogue will lead to good results on a long-term
basis as opposed to a short-term basis here."

One of those long-term results may be a better working relationship between the NHL and the Kontinental Hockey League, Russia's professional hockey league.

While serious issues remain as the two sides try to find common ground, Monday's discussions showed that movement is being made by both sides to find a working relationship that furthers the growth of the game on a global level.

"I think, obviously, we have had some misunderstandings and disagreements and you only bridge those differences by continued dialogue and I think we have improved the level of dialogue in recent months and I hope that continues," Daly said.

But that dialogue cannot become action, Daly says, until the NHL's guiding principle of "mutual respect of contracts" is the bedrock philosophy on both sides of the conversation.

The NHL does not have a player transfer agreement with the KHL and certain issues have arisen from that, including the most notable case of Alexander Radulov, a Nashville Predator forward who was signed by the KHL while still under contract to his NHL club.

"Certainly we want to forge common understandings and our view is our bedrock principle is the mutual respect of contracts and we want to get to a place where we each respect each other's contracts as they should be respected," Daly said.

"I don't think either league is interested right now in your traditional, classic player transfer agreement. We have to focus on areas where they can be common ground, where there can be cooperation."

KHL boss Slava Fetisov, the Hockey Hall of Famer who played in the NHL, admitted Monday that he would like more cooperation from the NHL as the three-year-old KHL tries to grow out of its infancy into a viable league with a solid foundation.

"We need the help to grow together," Fetisov said. "I think we need the relationship with the NHL."

The response is coming in what Daly calls small steps, saying "you have to walk before you can run."

As a prime example, both sides point to the upcoming 2010 NHL Compuware Premier Challenge, which will feature two NHL teams playing KHL teams in exhibitions games. The Phoenix Coyotes will play Dinamo Riga of Latvia in one game and the Carolina Hurricanes will face off against SKA St. Petersburg in the other.

"One of the things they have said over time is they would like to create a more regular presence where there is competition between KHL clubs and NHL clubs and I think we're taking at least a baby step in that direction this year," Daly said. "We'll have at least two NHL clubs playing games against KHL teams, the first time in 20 years, I think, that has been the case that we have played Russian league teams."

Fetisov noted that the presence of NHL teams in KHL rinks this fall will only help in his crusade to lift the KHL's level of play.

"I think this is very important to see where we stand right now," Fetisov said. "Again, it is going to bring different interest in Russia."

And while Daly said the NHL still has several issues to work on when it comes to relations with the KHL, he believes cooperation between the two leagues going forward will only benefit the growth of the game, which is the idea behind the World Hockey Summit.

"We do want to be good partners in the hockey world," Daly said. "We do get a significant number of players and good player talent from the Russian league, just as we do from other European leagues and we have always tried to work with those leagues to make sure hockey remains
strong in all areas of the world because it ultimately benefits the National Hockey League."

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