The Mystery of Vadim Shipachyov
By Josh Brewster, Buffalo Sports Page
Las Vegas is a land of blown opportunities. Usually attributable to gambling, rather than merit and the talent upon which merit is based. In the case of KHL star forward Vadim Shipachyov, a missed opportunity seems to have been based on vanity, but we may never know.
The 30-year-old KHLer was signed to a 2yr/$9M deal by Golden Knights GM George MacPhee over the summer. He will now go through the unconditional waiver process, which presumably will lead to a return to SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
Shipachyov appeared in three NHL contests thus far, but was sent to Chicago of the American Hockey League. With 71 more games on the Vegas Golden Knights regular season calendar, it stands to reason that MacPhee wouldn’t have kept him in the minors for long. Other players with NHL experience, including defenseman Shea Theodore, Brandon Pirri and Alex Tuch, just to name a few, have spent time in Chicago as MacPhee wades through the process of establishing a brand-new NHL team. None of them make the kind of bank that Shipachyov does, and Shipachyov would not have been buried there for the entire season.
Shipachyov’s money was granted on a one-way deal, making him a very wealthy AHLer. His salary for both the NHL and AHL were the same. After Shipachyov ditched the Chicago Wolves and was suspended by the Vegas organization, MacPhee granted Svoboda permission to seek a deal with any other NHL club on the heels of his client’s demotion. That Shipachyov insists on going home to Russia is baffling. Any number of NHL teams could have taken a chance on him.
Over the years, many European players have reported respectfully to the American Hockey League. They get the idea that that is where National Hockey League careers are usually formed. The AHL is respected by hockey people throughout the planet for featuring a level of hockey at least on par with any European league, including the Czech, Swedish and German leagues. Some players in the KHL are at a higher skill level than much of Europe and the AHL, but it’s a close call, and quite often Europe (including the KHL) represents the last stop on a pro career when NHL opportunities dry up.
European pro leagues, however, aren’t affiliated with the NHL, and the KHL leads to the Gagarin Cup, not the Stanley Cup, which is one of the key things that make the Shipachyov case strange.
Shipachyov’s agent, Petr Svoboda, bravely defected to the west in 1984 during the death throes of the Iron Curtain, just a few years before Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Glasnost” (or, “increased openness”) took hold, resulting in the ultimate fall of communism.
Svoboda benefited greatly from fleeing to North America, where he played for Montreal, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay before retiring after 1,028 NHL games (plus 127 playoff contests) over 17 seasons. Svoboda was drafted fifth overall, just behind featured Mario Lemieux, Kirk Muller, Ed Olczyk, and Al Iafrate; before Shawn Burr, Shayne Corson, Gary Roberts, Kevin Hatcher and Doug Bodger.
On the surface, it would seem that Svoboda would push his client to remain in pursuit of the Stanley Cup. But we may never know what the thought process is at present regarding Shipachyov. In this case, one has to wonder whether Shipachyov is simply homesick or has received some very bad advice from his representatives (and peers?).
We suspect that there is a respect issue here to go along with the seemingly bad advice he’s received.
This writer has encountered many Russian agents and players who feel that the AHL is beneath them. Don’t get me wrong: Many European players understand full well the AHL’s value and that it is the key pipeline to the NHL. In the case of Shipachyov, think of all the struggling clubs (Avalanche, Coyotes, Canadiens, Rangers and Sabres, to name a few), who arguably have cap space–or wouldn’t have to do much to find some–to accommodate Shipachyov. He likely wouldn’t have had to play in the AHL long, it would seem, had he bounced to another NHL organization.
So what is it? Homesick? Disrespect? Arrogance? We may never know.
One thing, though, is certain: Gagarin vs. Stanley is no contest.