By Sean McCafferty aka 30ranfordfan

Marek Svatos. Kyle Wellwood. Now Evgeni Nabokov. Three times an NHL club has tried to bring a player over from Europe this year, and three times another club has snatched them up on the waiver wire. Three times the fans of the team that was ‘robbed’ cried foul. We’re hearing calls for a change in the rule. One that would allow clubs that do all the leg work getting a deal done, to reap the benefits of that contract. One that would mean the player no longer has to go through waivers to come back to North America.

I get were the argument comes from.

Svatos & Wellwood

The St. Louis Blues (who have fallen victim to these rare circumstances twice this year) are in need of a boost in offense. Both times (Svatos to Nashville, and Wellwood to San Jose) the player they wanted to bring into their line up was grabbed by a conference rival, one they’re fighting with for position in the Western Conference.

Now Nabokov had agreed to come back as goaltending insurance for the power-house Detroit Red Wings. Chris Osgood is hurt, and Jimmy Howard is having what could best be described as a mediocre season. Instead of joining a Stanley Cup contender, Nabby will now be joining a perennial doormat, the New York Islanders. Either that or sit out the rest of the season. I would guess that like both the Red Wings & their fans, Mr. Nabokov isn’t exactly thrilled about this either.

What everyone seems to forget, or maybe just wasn’t following hockey in the 80s and early 90s, is that there is a very good reason for rule. That reason even has a name – Reijo Ruotsalainen.

Ruotsalainen was a slick skating defenseman with the New York Rangers in the early 1980s. Never known for being a great defensive player, he was considered among the best “purely offensive” defensemen of his time.  After the Rangers made a coaching change (from Herb Books to Ted Sator) ‘Rexi’ became unhappy with his NHL Club. He packed his bags, and moved to Europe. Joined SC Bern in Switzerland (where he is considered among the team’s all time greats).

Ruotsalainen /w Jari Kurri

One of the most clever GMs in the NHL during those years, Glen Sather saw a player that could help his club win a Stanley Cup. Twice he convinced Ruotsalainen to come back to the NHL from Europe, after the Swiss season had ended. Twice he was added to the Oilers roster just in time to play a few regular season games, and quarter back the team’s power play come Playoff time.

Sather realized that some players will prefer to play in Europe, rather than North America. It makes little sense for the NHL, or the NHLPA, to have a bunch of part-time players who only show up for the playoffs.  The rule made sense when they put it in place, and it still makes sense today.

In the cases of both St. Louis and Detroit – I don’t think it should have been too hard for either of the General Managers to realize that those were legit concerns before the season started. If Wellwood, Svatos, or Nabakov were players that nicely fill holes for those clubs, they had all off season to get a deal done. The fact that they didn’t do it then, makes it hard for me to feel any sympathy for them now.