International Ice Hockey: Player Poaching and Contract Dispute
Zdrojeski, Kate, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law
Since the 1990's, European hockey leagues have relied on player transfer agreements to govern the movement of contracted players from their European teams to the U.S. National Hockey League (NHL). Player transfer agreements are brokered by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and ensure that European clubs receive compensation for players electing to terminate their contracts in favor of new agreements with the NHL. As of 2007, the IIHF and the NHL had no player transfer agreement in place. This lack of an international agreement has resulted in an increase in contract breach, or player poaching. Without an enforceable player transfer agreement in place, hockey teams worldwide have no remedy for international breaches of contract. This Note first examines the role of the IIHF in governing international player transfers and suggests that a new method be implemented to regulate international player movement. A "posting" model, as used in Major League Baseball, will better address the concerns of the NHL and IIHF member bodies regarding player transfers while simultaneously reducing the incentive for international contract breach.
Few sports enjoy the international presence, global following, and dental destruction of ice hockey. Though the U.S. National Hockey League (NHL) enjoys a reputation as the world's premier league, ice hockey is hardly America's game. Countless leagues exist around the globe, with the premier talent hailing from European nations such as Russia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic (1) However, with the promise of lucrative contracts and high levels of competition in the NHL, Europe's most talented players frequently choose to abandon their national teams. Further, foreign players often accept opportunities to play in the NHL without regard to their existing contractual obligations.
The signing away of contracted players, or player poaching as it is commonly called, is an unfortunate occurrence in international ice hockey. Since the game lacks a powerful, supreme governing body, (2) hockey leagues exist as sovereign entities and often disregard the rules governing their international counterparts. Though historically prevalent, the issue of player poaching recently rose to the forefront of international ice hockey when Alexander Radulov signed a three-year deal with Russia's newly-formed Continental Hockey League (KHL) (3) while still under contract with the Nashville Predators. (4)
This Note examines the regulations governing international player transfers in ice hockey and the concept of player poaching through the lens of the Alexander Radulov saga. Part II provides substantial background on the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the now-expired international Player Transfer Agreement, and the history of player poaching. Part III discusses and analyzes the posting system, (5) a method used to regulate international player transfers in Major League Baseball. Part IV proposes that the IIHF and NHL modify their current player transfer system by adopting a posting system and strengthening the IIHF.
II. THE RISE AND FALL OF THE IIHF/NHL PLAYER TRANSFER AGREEMENT
On July 11, 2008, Russian-born Alexander Radulov, a forward with the NHL's Nashville Predators, signed a three-year contract with the KHL's Salava Yulayev Ufa. (6) Questions immediately arose concerning Radulov's breach of his NHL contract and the validity of his KHL agreement. When Radulov allegedly signed his KHL contract, the NHL and the KHL had no agreement in place to govern international player transfers or prevent player poaching. (7) Though the IIHF has successfully brokered several Player Transfer Agreements (PTAs) (8) between the NHL and IIHF member bodies in the past, Russia has not signed a PTA with the NHL since 2005. (9) Currently, no PTA exists (10) between the NHL and IIHF member bodies, (11) despite the IIHF's frequent warnings that a lack of a PTA will result in chaos throughout the hockey world. …