Court rules against Gandler and Semin

By Eugene Belashchenko

The Washington Capitals achieved some movement in the case of their talented young winger, Alexander Semin. The U.S. District Court ruled Friday that the young forward is forbidden to sign another professional contract until a hearing is held to decide the issue at hand between he and the Washington Capitals. The hearing is scheduled for November 23rd. The ruling also applies to Semin’s agent, Mark Gandler, and his Sports Advisors Company Inc. agency.

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee had the following to say regarding the case: “It’s the first step. Essentially, the court has agreed with the Capitals that what’s taking place isn’t proper.”

Despite the favorable ruling, it is unclear whether it is a victory for the Washington Capitals. Yes, the NHL club may earn a decision against the young forward, but would such a ruling successfully bring Semin to North America and into the Capitals fold? If this end result does not happen, then the effort was all for naught.

This summer Semin switched agencies, leaving the International Management Group for Gandler’s SAC. While it is unclear why the change occurred, it is likely that it happened due to the young forward’s wish to remain in Russia for at least another season as opposed to IMG’s strong interest in bringing the young forward over to North America in order to fulfill the player’s NHL agreement. This does not mean that Gandler’s group wished for the Washington Capitals forward to remain in Russia, but Semin’s current agent likely resisted the player’s decision a lot less than his previous caretakers did.

So, now we are in the second week into this endeavor that started when the Capitals filed a lawsuit against Alexander Semin in the US District Court on October 28th. What are the chances of the Capitals getting their wish of bringing the player over to North America?

Interestingly, the Captials’ case has been helped not by the court’s ruling, but by Semin’s Russian club’s financial dire straits, as the club’s sponsor has announced a budget cut of 50%. This situation falls right in line with the predictions of doomsayers who constantly preached that Russian hockey is bound for a catastrophe, as it is not organized as a sound business and relies entirely too much on sponsorship.

So, now the Russian club has no funds to pay an expensive forward such as Semin, who according to various sources currently takes in a salary that ranges from one to two million dollars. This does not mean that Washington fans should rejoice, as their long lost son is coming home. The price of oil remains high and accordingly, there are still plenty of Russian clubs capable of paying Semin’s salary.

The army factor may also play a part in all of this. Yes, it was likely a gimmick set up to avoid Semin’s contractual AHL obligations last season, but Semin is in the Russian Army and according to law has to serve out two years of service. While this may be a foreign concept to those outside of Russia, a Russian player can serve out his army tenure with a professional hockey club. This practice goes back to the Soviet Union, where most teams were sponsored by the State. Dynamo Moscow belonged to KGB, while CSKA really did belong to the Armed Forces.

Lada is located near Samara, a city that houses the High League’s CSK VVS, the former club of the Soviet Air Force. Thus, Semin officially skates for Lada on loan from CSK VVS military base. Is this a fair arrangement for the NHL fans, who can’t watch the young forward at the MCI Center? Probably not, but don’t forget that the alternative is that the player does not play any hockey at all and may as a result potentially lose some of his potential. For a recent example, one needs to look at the cases of Alexander Svitov, Stanislav Chistov and Kirill Koltsov. All three players were taken under guard in Moscow after a game between CSKA and their club, Avangard. Then, they were taken to a military base in an attempt to force the players to skate for the official military club. While the forced transfer never took place, Svitov and Chistov sat out virtually an entire season before jumping to North America. Considering the mediocre NHL careers enjoyed by both players, one can only guess how much impact the one-year layoff had on the green 18-year-olds.

So, we have seen some movement in Semin’s case with the court’s ruling and the financial collapse of Russian club Lada Togliatti. November promises to be just as interesting, as Semin Friday played his last official game for Lada before the transfer period. Rumor has it he is bound for Super League club Khimik located near Moscow. Still, the young forward’s future has not yet been decided, and the Washington Capitals fans still have a glimmer of hope to see him in their midst. Another aspect of the Capitals lawsuit is the setting of a precedent for the future, as CAS is an established hockey agency with a number of clients. While the ruling against the agency may not hurt Semin, it may have more of a negative impact on the image and the pockets of CAS and the agency’s main representative, Mark Gandler.