That's exactly what's been going on. Since they didn't sign, the players were leaving and the Russian Federation wasn't getting paid a dime. And because of sloppy laws, there was absolutely nothing to prevent an athlete from canceling a contract with a Russian club in order to play in the NHL. You probably recall that Evgeni Malkin canceled a one-year contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk just a couple of days after he signed it. Defection to the United States and his "resignation" via fax became the stuff of spy novels. I wrote a little bit about that here.
Up until now, Russian labor laws were such that any employment contract could be broken by the initiation of the employee so long as the emplyee provided 14 days notice. The "employee" was then free to do whatever he wanted. This is what was happening with players such as Malkin. While the mafia-financed Russian Super League teams can offer huge contracts to star players, some players prefer to play in a system where the mob isn't involved.
This "poaching" by the NHL has made the Russian Federation, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation, and their respective presidents very angry.
In an effort to stop this, the Russian Federation has enacted a law which essentially would put the NHL on the hook for buying out a Russian Super League player's contract. It requires a one month notice of cancellation plus compensation from the employee and/or the new employer to the original employer. In this Russian news article, Vladislav Tretiak is quoted:
"The new chapter of the Labour code provides a transparency in mutual relations of sportsmen, trainers and employers, gives to sportsmen and trainers the right to additional kinds of insurance protection, the right to additional holiday, the right to social indemnifications. Now the order of time translation of the sportsman from one employer to another is precisely regulated, that is very important for those who for any reasons does not manage to get in the basic structure of the command. Besides at a legislative level mutual relations of employers and sports federations on formation of combined teams of Russia are certain. Preschedule cancellation of the contract between the sportsman and its employer under the initiative of the sportsman without valid excuse now will oblige the last to pay to the employer solid indemnification"
Please keep in mind that I DO NOT speak Russian. This is not my translation.
Anyway, it seems like this could be trouble in the future. Russian NHL players, though, have been on the decline. Although a few of the biggest superstars are Russian, there just aren't as many Ruskies in the league anymore. Is this new legislation going to have a huge impact? Maybe not.
Tip of the hat to Jeff Klein at Slap Shot for the tip.