After a long wait in contract limbo, Nikolay Prokhorkin plays in the KHL at last

The prospect could have faced harsh sanctions after his contract with the Kings was ruled invalid, but CSKA has decided to let him play.

The long, strange journey of Nikolay Prokhorkin may be over for a while: he is back playing in CSKA Moscow's system.

The young forward prospect, taken in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, had signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings back in September. Though CSKA ("Red Army") of the KHL immediately disputed his right to sign this contract, he attended training camp for the Monarchs. He played eight games in Manchester with the farm team before the NHL ruled on the dispute.

The contract hearing

What was the contact dispute even about? Why did the Kings think they could win? I asked Fedor Fedin of RMNB for his help in understanding the situation, since the Kings have never commented publicly on the matter.

According to reports, the Kings put forth the following reasons why they thought his prior contract was invalid:

1. A contract for an underage player (under 18 at the moment when he signed a contract) should also be signed by his father; Prokhorkin had no right to sign it
2. He was told that the contract is two years long, not five
3. His father told CSKA management that his son wasn't going play for them, and therefore the contract ended
4. Russian law allows a worker to leave company if he wants by notifying them 14 days before he leaves
5. His signature was forged on the contract

However, the NHL ruled against Los Angeles and refused to register his contract. The KHL announced the ruling on November 14th, chiding the unprofessional behavior of Prokhorkin's agent and applauding the NHL for upholding the rules of their transfer agreement. Again, the Kings curiously made no statement.

The lost month and the threat of punishment

This meant that the Kings' contract was void, and CSKA retained control of his rights until April 2015. Prokhorkin no longer had a right to play in North America without their permission, not even in Canadian junior (where the London Knights hoped to see him).

So Prokhorkin didn't play in Manchester again, and the Monarchs reported he had returned to Russia. But no one heard a thing about him for over a month after that. Though they had compelled him to leave Manchester, it soon became clear he wasn't playing anywhere in Russia.

There was a real danger that CSKA would ban him from playing as punishment. This was especially worrisome since a 19-year-old player is at a crucial time in his development. He wasn't even invited to the World Junior Championships by Team Russia (they, in turn, may have been angered that the Kings refused to release him for the Subway Series). He was a player without a team.

Prokhorkin and CSKA reconcile

Finally, news broke that the air had been cleared between CSKA and Prokhorkin. As is perhaps inevitable in such matters, blame was laid at the feet of his agent. The young forward explained how the the face to face meeting went:

"I came to the club, speaking to Sergei Fedorov [the GM] and Sergei Nemchinov [previous GM/current advisor]. I told them that I wanted to play hockey, I'm not leaving because I was badly treated at CSKA, but because I wanted to develop as a player. Explained to them the whole situation with the agent.

They, as I understand, do not mind that I got the experience of playing there, and do not mind that I wanted to play in the NHL, but was told that now I need you here, you need a team, you need a club system. Of course, reminded that the contract - a contract, it must be respected.

They seem to understand me, my situation. They too were hockey players, playing in the NHL is probably why they got my feelings, that I followed a dream and made the wrong move at the time." -, December 19, 2012

CSKA's GM Sergei Fedorov, who had himself played part of his stellar career in North America, stressed that both parties had come to a clear understanding "without agents and intermediaries." He confirmed that Prokhorkin would play out the rest of his contract in CSKA's system, and the team had decided not to impose sanctions.

Now what - VHL or KHL?

Prokhorkin returned to the ice with the Red Army's farm team Tver in the VHL on December 22nd. He scored two goals in the 4-1 win. After that, the VHL went on its holiday break, and Prokhorkin was then called up by the big club.

With the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Alexander Radulov, and Mikhail Grabovski on the roster, he isn't going to get top six minutes, but Prokhorkin did play 6:41 on the fourth line. We'll have to wait and see whether they continue to develop him in that role, or send him down to get more playing time in Tver.

As for the Kings, they won't be able to see him again until he's 22. Lombardi would no doubt rather have overseen his development, but this isn't necessarily a disaster. They took a chance and lost, but Prokhorkin can continue to play. He's shown a willingness to come over to North America, so to me, the roll of the dice still looks worth it.

After all, how often can you nab a player with top six potential at the end of the fourth round?

We'll keep an eye on his development overseas.