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More Russians Saying ‘Nyet’ to NHL Grind

Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin is a two-time MVP and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin is the reigning league scoring champion.

But the reality is Russian players are disappearing from the NHL landscape. Only 23 Russians (and nine more from former Soviet republics) are playing full-time today, compared with 87 in 2000-01.

"I don't think anything is changing for the top Russian players," Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray said. "Guys who can step in and have an impact will continue to come because financially it works for them. But depth players who need to spend time in the minors don't want to come over."

The second-year Kontinental Hockey League is paying wages that entice non-superstars to stay in Russia. Last summer, the Capitals wanted to keep Sergei Fedorov but he joined the KHL, as did Sergei Zubov and Viktor Kozlov.

Said Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov: "If you can earn as much as you can here, why wouldn't you want be in your home country?"

Another issue is the NHL lacks a transfer agreement with the Russian federation, meaning teams must negotiate directly with Russian teams for release of players.

"There is a reticence now to draft Russian players," Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke said.

Last June, six Russians were drafted, down from 16 in 2006. But Burke doesn't see the number of Russians in the NHL falling more.

"It's cyclical," he said. "The Russians will rebound."

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