**Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Famer, Steve Carp’s returns to SinBin.vegas for the 2019-20 season. His weekly column publishes every Sunday during the Golden Knights season and is brought to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm.**
By nature, I’m no conspiracy theorist.
I don’t believe in aliens. I think Oswald acted alone when he assassinated JFK. I’m pretty sure Elvis is dead, though when I see Nick Ferraro perform as the “Philly Elvis,” sometimes a shadow of doubt creeps into my mind (only kidding).
But I have to admit, what I’m seeing with Russian-born players and the Golden Knights has me scratching my head and wondering just what the hell is going on?
In the brief three-year history of the franchise, there have been three Russian players who were with the Golden Knights — Vadim Shipachyov, Nikita Gusev and Valentin Zykov. Their contributions have amounted to virtually nil. Two of the three have not had pleasant endings and Zykov could also find himself exiting with a less-than-favorable sendoff once his 20-game suspension ends.
First, let’s be clear about all of this. I’m not accusing George McPhee of sabotaging the NHL careers of the trio. Remember, this is the guy who drafted Alex Ovechkin when he was the general manager in Washington and no one’s going to deny that worked out pretty well.
So if you want to paint McPhee as a modern-day Harold Ballard who detested the Russians and perhaps saw their existence in the NHL as a necessary evil, you’d be missing the mark by a country mile.
That said, the fact none of the three have made a positive contribution to the franchise makes you wonder if something is amiss in the evaluation process or in the projection of what these guys could do.
Shipachyov didn’t produce, was sent to the minors, balked at being demoted and was eventually released after playing just three games and scoring one goal. He and his family never found a comfort level in Las Vegas nor was he able to find a comfort level on the ice. He is currently back in the Kontinental Hockey League playing with Dynamo Moscow and he leads the team in scoring with 21 points.
Gusev never got a chance to show he couldn’t play with the Knights. He was unable to break into the lineup during the playoffs, his time on the ice limited to practice. And when the Knights found his asking price to remain with the team was too steep, he was off to New Jersey. He’s doing pretty well with the Devils. He had three goals and four points in his first seven games and has quickly become a fan favorite in Newark.
Zykov, who had two goals in 10 games last year playing limited minutes (he averaged 11:37 TOI during his 10 games last year), worked hard over the summer, made the team out of training camp and had two assists in his first seven games playing on the third line before he got popped for violating the NHL’s performance-enhancing substances program.
I’m not going to get into the whole issue about how it went down, how Zykov essentially got thrown under the bus by some of his teammates and how McPhee reacted. That has all been covered.
I will say it would be disingenuous to think what happened to Zykov and what happened to Nate Schmidt a year ago are the same. The fact is, we’ve never known what was found in Schmidt’s system to trigger the positive test and we’re probably never going to know what exactly Zykov was taking (he and his agent said they were over-the-counter supplements).
Until the NHL becomes more transparent with its drug policy and the testing is more rigorous, you’ll never get the truth.
So, what happens when Zykov serves out his suspension? Do the Knights welcome him back? Do they claim he breached his contract and subsequently cut him loose and eat his $675,000 contract? Do they send him back to the AHL?