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Report from Russia: Egor Korshkov to return to KHL for one season

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He’ll be Yegor again before we know it.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

After a few days of unsourced rumours going around that Egor Korshkov would return to the KHL for one season and play for his old club Lokomotiv, the Russian site Sport24.ru has the story, told in typical fashion:

As it became known to Sport24, Russian striker Yegor Korshkov, who did not make it to Toronto’s final squad for the NHL playoffs, will continue his career at Lokomotiv.

The 24-year-old striker will return to Yaroslavl for one season on loan. The deal will be officially announced soon, with minor details left to be settled.

Korshkov in the 2019/20 season played 1 match for Toronto and scored 1 goal. In the 2018/19 season, he played 19 meetings in the KHL for Lokomotiv and scored 5 (3 + 2) points. [Google Translate]

Korshkov, who turned 24 a few weeks ago, is in the first year of his ELC by the NHL calendar. If he goes to Russia right now, he immediately steps into next year. That ELC is only two-years, since he was 22 when it was signed. So if he does play the 2020-2021 season for Lokomotiv, he will finish up an RFA with arbitration rights. He’ll also be, somewhat unusually, waivers exempt.

If he and the Leafs are then interested in him playing in the 2021-2022 season in the NHL, when he’ll be 25, they will be able to sign him to a deal that doesn’t need to meet the ELC minimum (which will still be $925,000) like they would with a 25-year-old Russian UFA. The NHL minimum salary in that year will be $750,000.

The KHL season is set to start On September 2, with training camp already underway, but the official schedule has not been released. Training camps have been disrupted with multiple positive tests for COVID-19, cancelled games and tournaments amidst a plan that seems to involve regular operation, international travel and fans in arenas for games where that is allowed.

Korshkov’s contract has a European assignment clause, so the Leafs can loan him to Lokomotiv, and under the NHL and AHL schedule in a normal year, he would be able to come back in the spring and play on either squad. That situation remains unclear, since we don’t know when the AHL season will run, and only have vague ideas about the NHL season.

It’s possible to write whatever narrative you want about this situation, and decide that this means that Korshkov will never return or the Leafs don’t want him. But one thing stands out to me: by signing him to his ELC when they did, they have created a version of Alexander Barabanov they can pay a lot less to in the future when the cap is likely going to be boa constrictor tight.

The future is not predictable, but this seems like a situation of maximum flexibility for the Leafs, and Korshkov doesn’t have to sit around for months waiting to play. The price for that is whatever the Coronavirus situation in Yaroslavl is now and in that murky future. Meanwhile, Lokomotiv has an interesting forward corps of mostly young players. The veterans are three Swedes, so Korshkov will feel like he’s never left Toronto.