KHL contracts run out on April 30 at midnight, so now there are a host of official free agents in Europe. One is coming to the NHL, and his old team leaked the news.
#Jokerit and Mikko Lehtonen have mutually agreed to terminate the player’s contract.— Jokerit Helsinki (@Jokerit_EN) May 1, 2020
We all thank Mikko for a great year in Helsinki and wish him all the best in the NHL! #KHL pic.twitter.com/hNbnBHAWcm
Mikko Lehtonen likely already has an NHL contract (I’ll save you some clicks and tell you he’s a lefty defender who went on a points bender this season), and we’ll likely hear about that today. This year’s free agent class is in a bind when it comes to decision making. With official confirmation from Gary Bettman that the next NHL season could start as late as December, as they are determined to fit in the rest of this season, European players have a tough decision to make.
For Lehtonen, or Artyom Zub, who has a deal with Ottawa that just hasn’t been filed yet, the choice is to sign now, wait out the resumption of this season (players who were not already on a team’s reserve list aren’t eligible to play in the NHL post-deadline) and then join the training camp for next year, whenever that happens. They are potentially looking at a seven-month layoff. In theory, European seasons should start on time, with training camps in July, August and September depending on the league, but that’s hardly guaranteed.
This problem works both ways. Pending UFAs in the NHL and AHL who are looking to move to Europe, will not be thrilled if they suddenly get told their contracts have been extended past July 1. It feels like some arrangement is going to have to be made, if the NHL is to resume, that protects players from missing out on months of hockey and signing opportunities for next season.
Some of the KHL players that have been linked to the Maple Leafs over the last few months have already made their decisions:
- Mikhail Grigorenko, arguably the only genuinely high-end player available, will sign with Columbus
- Timur Bilyalov, the goalie from Ak Bars Kazan, re-signed with that team in April
- Konstantin Okulov, linemate of Grigorenko at CSKA, re-signed in April
- Nikita Nesterov, subject of a report that he’d had a meeting in Russia this year with Kyle Dubas, is wandering around free as a bird
- Sergei Andronov was linked to the Leafs last year when Kyle Dubas visited Russia, and he signed an extension with CSKA at the end of May last year that runs through next year, so I guess he changed his mind
- Cody Franson is looking for work, which I mention because it is tradition
- Dmitrij Jaskin (above) was never linked to the Leafs, I just like him, but he re-signed with his KHL team
And that’s most of the rumours sorted out. Dubas did spend a lot of time looking at unspecified players on Lokomotiv’s junior team last year, so who knows, maybe they have their eye on someone beyond Alexander Barabanov.