Who needs to watch Days of our Lives when there is Alexander Svitov and his ongoing saga to keep them entertained? The drama and suspense are incomparable, not to mention the bizarreness of the whole matter.
While an end is nowhere in sight, I have put together a timeline to help keep track of the situation.
It all began when Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant GM Jay Feaster took the podium in Sunrise, Fla. and announced as the third overall selection what looked to be the mos t NHL-ready player in the draft. The team had hopes of immediate assistance from the young Russian star.
A flurry of off-season transactions diminished the need for Svitov in the lineup for the 2001-02 season. When the European signing deadline passed with no word from T ampa Bay on its first round draft selection, no one was very surprised.
Rumors began circulating on the Internet through the Hockey’s Future affiliate site, Russian Prospects. While Tampa Bay fans sat scratching their heads, Tampa Bay reporters hit the phones to dig up as much dirt as possible on the scandal slowly unraveling before their eyes.
The next morning, the story hit the press and was confirmed by the Lightning as well as Svitov’s agent Jay Grossman. Both confirmed that Svitov had indeed signed a 3- year, $3.6-million contract on July 14, the day before the signing deadline. Feaster told the St. Petersburg Times that the signing ha d not been announced at the request of Grossman, and that “he expressed concern of reprisals against the player and his family in Omsk by the people who run the team.”
Although the tactic has never been used in the past, the only way to circumvent the IIHF transfer agreement is through a military obligation in the player’s home coun try.
Svitov had four years remaining in his contract with Omsk, who apparently did not want to lose one of their star players. When word of the NHL contract reached Avanga rd officials, prompt action was taken.
“When Omsk got the letter, they took Svitov out of the locker room, took him into the president’s office,” Feaster told the Times. “The team president began waving th is letter and berating him. By that time there’s a knock at the door. Military police are there. They take Svitov and forcibly remove him to an army post.”
The Lightning retained legal counsel in Russia to explore the validity of Omsk’s claim that Svitov was inducted into the Russian military in December 2000.
Russian Prospects reported Svitov was cleared to practice with Avangard’s farm team, Avangard VDV, due to an agreement reached between Avangard’s president and local military forces.
Tampa Bay attorneys in Russia determined that Svitov was legally in the Russian military and was therefore required to serve a two-year obligation, which began in Dec ember 2000.
Svitov played his first regular-season game with Avangard’s farm team, Avangard VDV. Due to his contract with Tampa Bay and IIHF regulations, Svitov cannot play for O msk until given permission by the Lightning.
Omsk reported receiving a fax from Tampa Bay authorizing Svitov to play in the Russian Hockey League, though the Lightning denied giving permission.
Svitov played in his first Super League game. While playing on the fourth line, he recorded an assist on Artern Chemov’s goal.
Reports came out of Russia detailing how Svitov, along with teammates Stanislav Chistov and Kiril Kostov, was forcefully removed from their hotel room following a gam e against CSKA.
While no official reason was given, speculation was that the military was looking to improve the roster of the Central Red Army team. No matter the reason, the move e xcited Tampa Bay. “Any movement of Svitov is good news considering the fact that he hasn’t been playing,” GM Rick Dudley told the Tampa Tribune.
Assistant GM Jay Feaster also reiterated that the Lightning had not given permission for Svitov to play for Avangard in the Super League.
Avangard president Anatoliy Bardin publicly called Svitov ‘dishonorable’. Bardin said in an interview published on the Sport Express, a Russian sports web site, “Regarding Svitov, he conducted himself dishonorably.”
When asked when Svitov would head to North America, Bardin stated, “He still can’t do it regardless of all his desire, since right now he is serving his military duty . And you can’t do anything about it–it’s the law. No one canceled the national military duty. By the way, not long ago I sent a fax to Tampa’s management congratulating them with the fortunate choice at the draft and wished them luck next season and noted Svitov would not join them earlier then 2003, after the conclusion of his contract with Avangard.”
Svitov was cleared to return to Omsk. In a meeting of the PHL, Bardin presented his argument that Svitov and the others were not eligible to play for any team other t han Avangard, including the Red Army team. The Vice President of Defense of the Russian Federation, General Colonel Nikolai Kormiltsev, agreed with Bardin and ordered the players returned to their team.
Svitov was finally heard. In a report dated October 31 originating from the Soviet Sport, Svitov said, “Psychologically, I feel empty. Considering also, that it is an unpleasant story touched not only me, but also my family. My father worries. He was charged in the press that he raced after the money, pushed me to sign the contract in the NHL. It was written about me that in the city appeared a millionaire in a military uniform. I did not get any money from the Lightning. Even the bonus would be paid after I make it into the main lineup of the team. Regarding the judicial process between Tampa Bay and Avangard, I don’t care about it . I am not being judged.”
Tampa Bay has basically given up any hope of seeing their third overall draft selection before December 2002, when his military duty is over. Considering Avangard’s questionable tactics and Svitov’s multi-year contract with them, getting him out of Russia and away from Bardin may still prove to be a challenge.
To be continued…