October 21st, 2002


Charlton's NHL

Saprykin Bolts AHL for Russia, Money

by Rick Charlton

AP Photo

Heading Home?: Saprykin sacrifices long term gain for short term finances.

Where was this new Oleg Saprykin when jobs were being won or lost in training camp a month ago?

With Calgary's first round pick from 1999 apparently AWOL from Saint John the guessing as to what's going on with the former first round draft pick will begin in earnest.

Saprykin, still only 21 years old, looked to be yet another of a long, long line of young players brought to the NHL too early, losing confidence when faced with the prospect of playing against men, then turtling in the minor leagues for years before finding their way back to the show.

If they made it back at all.

The former Golden Child, who went through a horrible five goal, 24 point AHL campaign in 2001-2002, followed an indifferent training camp with a wow start to the season in Saint John of the AHL, putting up seven points in two weekend games, making him the likely first call-up to Calgary should the major league team run into injury problems.

But Saprykin seems to have been planning his exit for awhile, is currently lounging in Seattle and, if we were taking bets, likely hasn't even sought the advice of his agent Brian Lawton who stands to gain zero in recommending his client exit to Russia where his own cut of the pie would be lost under the table.

The fact Saprykin will be holding station in Seattle until mid-November seems to be a signal to the Flames organization that he would be willing to accept a trade to another organization, but only one that would be willing to take him on at the NHL level. That in turn means his current trade value has probably shrunk to virtually zero and his exit to Russia virtually assured.

For his part it could be that Saprykin is simply looking at this as a pure money affair.

It's no secret that large money - the origins of which are best left unquestioned - has been running freely in Russian hockey.

Ex-Flame Igor Kravchuk, according to a report in the Vancouver Province this weekend, is being paid $1 million U.S. in Russia with no tax and few expenses. Teemu Selanne told the Province that Alexander Korolyuk, ex of the San Jose Sharks, is pulling in $600,000 U.S. playing for an obscure team in rural Russia. Former Penguins coach Ivan Hlinka is said to be pulling down $500,000 U.S. as a bench boss.

"It's not uncommon for some players to receive 50 per cent of the contract in cash right in your hand on the first day you show up," one agent was quoted by the Province anonymously.

"If it keeps up it's certainly going to be a problem for the NHL during the lockout, because some players are going to make a lot of money," said the agent in the Province. "It's only the Russians, Slovaks and Czechs who really want to play over there because they're the only ones who want to live there, but there are going to be Russians, Slovaks and Czechs making a lot of money during that time."

Faced with the prospect of earning a minor league salary for yet another year, the prospect of a bleak Siberian winter isn't so daunting when you can stuff six figures of U.S. bills into the mattress with no questions asked.

The Flames seemed to have all but written Saprykin off anyway and it would follow that his future in the organization, before his surprising scoring spree in the last week and a half, was all but done.

So there may not be as many tears shed over this as you might think. The kid goes back to Russia but the Flames continue to hold his NHL rights through to age 31 (under the current CBA). At some point Saprykin will want to come back and the Flames will eventually get some value for him.

In the meantime, he's lost in more ways than one.

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