HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) - The number of Europeans playing in the National Hockey League (NHL) is on the decline according to a survey released by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on Saturday.
There were fewer Europeans than a year ago playing in the just completed NHL regular season but more American-born players, it said.
Canadians continued to dominate rosters, providing more than half the league’s talent.
Europeans accounted for 243 (25.8 percent) of the 941 players appearing in at least one NHL game this season, down from 266 players a year ago.
The fall can be traced directly to the refusal of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation to be part of a player transfer agreement with the NHL.
Russia has long been a prime producer of top NHL talent, such as scoring champion Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin.
However, without an agreement NHL teams have become reluctant to sign or draft Russian players.
At last year’s entry draft only two Russians were taken in the first two rounds. Overall the number of Russians in the NHL dipped from 37 to 31.
The Russia Super League has been able to keep more of its best young players by offering entry-level salaries that rival the NHL.
Top Russian teams have also been willing to pay large amounts of money to attract top players such as Alexei Yashin, who moved from the New York Islanders back to Russia last season, signing a deal with Locomotiv Yaroslavl.
New York Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr, one of the NHL’s best-paid players, is also considering a move to Russia.
The decline in European players looks set to continue with the four-year transfer agreement brokered by IIHF president Rene Fasel at last year’s world championships in tatters and European nations demanding a better deal from the NHL.
Fasel said he had met NHL players’ association president Paul Kelly and planned to meet NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss the transfer stalemate but was happy with the situation for the moment.
“We can live without it (an agreement),” Fasel told reporters during a media briefing at the ice hockey world championships. “For sure there are some positive points from not having an agreement. Why not? In the end the market will decide.”
The push for a better deal has been led by Russia which argues that the NHL has stripped the European leagues of their top players, encouraging them to break contracts and offering unacceptable compensation.
Under the previous agreement, the 30 NHL clubs would contribute between $10-12 million annually to a transfer pool administered by the IIHF. According to reports, European clubs would receive $200,000 for every player signed by an NHL team.
The slumping American dollar has strained efforts to get agreement.
”If you check the dollar in 2006 verses the euro, the American dollar has lost around 30 percent. That means the $200,000 in 2006 is worth only $140,000 now,“ said Fasel. ”They (European federations) will not sign under these conditions.
Editing by Clare Fallon