With the lockout ending, players are traveling from all over the globe back to their teams ahead of training camp. One player that has opted not to report is New York Islanders defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
Visnovsky has been playing for Slovan Bratislava of the Kontinental Hockey League during the work stoppage and announced today that he would be staying with them for the remainder of the KHL season. The defender's decision directly violates the NHL's agreement with the KHL that forces all players to return as soon as the lockout ends.
This fickle, yet fascinating situation, could lead to a very messy confrontation between the NHL, KHL and Visnovsky.
During the course of the lockout, many of the NHL's star players playing abroad had threatened to remain in the KHL had the league cut players’ salaries. The most notable name on that list was Washington Capitals winger Alexander Ovechkin, who regularly took to Twitter to voice his displeasure with the lockout.
Despite their threats, Ovechkin and the other stars appear to be headed back to their respective teams (Ilya Kovalchuk's future is still in limbo). Visnovsky becomes the first player to go against the grain, setting up yet another embarrassing situation for the New York Islanders.
As was first reported by Arthur Staple of Newsday, Visnovsky issued a statement regarding his decision:
I have decided to stay and continue my career in the KHL for the remainder of the 2012-2013 season. I am thankful to the Islanders for being so good to me. My decision not to play in the NHL is due to family and personal reasons. I have made no decisions on next season. My focus now is on Slovan Bratislava and enjoying my family in my home country.
Neil Sheehy, Visnovsky’s agent, also made a statement with regards to his client’s decision and claimed it had nothing to do with the Islanders, insisting “the situation would have been the same with any NHL team.”
At the heart of Visnovsky’s decision is the agreement made between the NHL and the KHL, which states that at the end of any work stoppage the NHL faces the KHL must terminate the contracts of all signed NHL players and prevent them from playing for their temporary KHL teams. This will be the first real test of this “assurance agreement” and will set the precedent for any future cases.
This decision also gives the New York Islanders another black eye on their franchise. This isn't the first time the team had a player they’ve acquired refuse to report. After goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was acquired through the wavier wire from the Detroit Red Wings in 2011, he refused to report to the team and was quickly suspended indefinitely by the organization. While many fingers were pointed towards Nabokov for failing to report, the Visnovsky situation no longer can be placed on the individual player. In the end, the responsibility for all of this must be placed on owner Charles Wang, general manager Garth Snow, and all of the executives in the Islanders organization. It now becomes a stark realization of the culture in the Islanders organization.
While Islanders brass may pretend that everything is fine within their organization, having two players fail to report in such a short timeframe must send up red flags to everyone in the hockey world. Now is the time for the Islanders to change up their culture in order to prevent this from ever happening again.
Photo Credit: CBS Sports