The Russian Factor and Mikhail Grigorenko: What Is It?

CALGARY, CANADA - JANUARY 5: Mikhail Grigorenko #17 of Team Russia digs for the puck under Mattias Backman #5 of Team Sweden during the 2012 World Junior Hockey Championship Gold Medal game at the Scotiabank Saddledome on January 5, 2012 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

After doing my mock draft, there was a lot of talk about my decision to have Mikhail Grigorenko dropping to 11th to the Washington Capitals. At the beginning of the year, Grigorenko had a chance of contending for the #1 spot in the draft, has had a good season, yet finds himself falling in almost everyone's list.

Why is that?

Something we call the Russian factor. Alexander Radulov is the most notable name in recent history because he left just when he started to breakout in Nashville. Since then, drafting Russians in the draft is a mix of superstition and research. Other notable Russians that have left for Russia include Nikita Filatov and Nikolai Zherdev.

Players like Alexei Cherepanov (RIP), Vladimir Tarasenko and Evgeny Kuznetsov, all fell down the draft because of the Russian factor.

But what is it? And how does it apply to Mikhail Grigorenko? Here, we explore that.

To me, the Russian factor isn't about the player's commitment to play North American hockey, and it isn't about their character as a person. These things contribute to the decision of not drafting this player so high, but intangibles and the Russian factor aren't dependent on each other.

In my opinion, its all about business. This isn't about a player not panning out, or becoming a bust or whatever your excuse might be. It's all about the clarity of the future.

The Russian factor is the seemingly non-existent (maybe not seemingly, its just not there) transfer agreement between the NHL and the KHL.

Imagine this: the Minnesota Wild is 1 out of 30 teams in the NHL. The other 29 teams, under the CBA rules, cannot touch your young Russian because his rights belong to the Wild. Other teams must either trade or offer an offer sheet.

In addition, the CBA restricts rookie entry-level deals to around 900k a year, with bonuses. And don't forget the salary cap system, which makes each team try to spend the least amount of money as it can for the talent they want or have. When it comes to an 22-year old NHLer, the Wild probably aren't going to offer an ridiculous amount of money and probably not for extremely long. Its all about planning your moves in the salary cap run league.

However, the KHL teams do not have such restrictions. In other words, they do not need to abide the NHL's rule of player rights. Just because the Wild drafted him does not mean a KHL team cannot offer him a contract. The KHL's current salary cap is $US36.5 million, but from what I can tell, they do not have the $US500,000 minimum salary that the CBA enforces, meaning a very rich team can spend alot of money on a few players.

My point is, a team in the KHL (it seems to be the CSKA at the moment) also owns Grigorenko's rights currently. That means, they have every right to talk to him, negotiate with him, and sweet talk him into going back to Russia. There is nothing the Wild can do about it.

In my book, no competition is good competition when it comes to contracts. The more demand, the more expensive the contract gets and the harder it becomes to convince to play.

So what are the differences between Minnesota and Russia? What can Russia offer that the Wild can't? Assuming Grigorenko is a good player but not a star NHLer.

Star player money

Long-term contracts

Star treatment

Close to home, familiar culture

What can Minnesota offer that the KHL team can't?

Play against the top players in the world

That isn't much to go on.

You might argue, "well Grigorenko can be a star, and when he does, he'll get star player money, long-term contracts and star treatment right here in Minnesota"! Sure, if that happens, then the Russian factor has little importance. However, you will have to spend alot of time convincing me Mikhail Grigorenko is going to be a star in the NHL.

He isn't Alexander Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin. There are problems in his game that aren't a part of the Russian factor. He needs to improve on his consistency, battle for the puck, and his energy in his game. In my opinion, guys like Matt Dumba, Alex Galchenyuk and Griffin Reinhart all have the potential to be big impact players in the NHL, almost equal to Grigorenko. To me, this Russian player is a very good prospect, but by no means, a can't miss guy.

I would put Grigorenko around #3-5 without the Russian factor. With the Russian factor and the uncertain future, it drops him a few spots. And that is where I have him in my rankings.

"What about Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk"? Galchenyuk grew up in Milwaukee I believe so the culture shift might be too much for him, and Yakupov IS a top tier talent and will get everything he would ever need playing in North America.

"What about North American players that KHL can snatch?" You think majority of North Americans would go overseas to the KHL? I'm generalizing here, but the change in culture as well as playing in an unknown country (and one that isn't looked favorably upon alot of North Americans) is just too much. KHL teams lose their "play at home" advantage.

If you truly believe he can be a star or a very good player, then the Russian factor should have little meaning. But if you have concerns about his ability to put all his tools together, like any other draft prospect, then the Russian factor compounds itself because now not only do you have to worry about his development, you need to worry about if an entry-level deal or a 2mil/yr 2 year contract and with the promise of playing against the best players in the world, is inticing enough to keep him from accepting a 5+mil/yr contract back home where he will get star treatment, even if he isn't one back in the NHL.

This isn't about motivation. Grigorenko moved to the QMJHL, even moved his mother from Russia to North America to play hockey. I think that says alot about him wanting to play in the NHL. I agree with ALL of that. But in 5 years, when a KHL team comes lurking around, you better hope that Grigorenko is getting everything he can in the KHL right here in Minnesota. Because if he isn't, thats all the more reason for him to leave for greener pastures.

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