News broke yesterday amid the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine that the NHL has severed all ties with the Russian-based KHL.

The NHL and the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) have held a “memorandum of understanding” with each other since at least 2011. While the bond between the two leagues is not as strong as the NHL’s ties with other leagues (the AHL and CHL, for example), the MOU was a way for entities in each league to communicate with each other.

It helped facilitate “transactions” between clubs… for example when an NHL club wanted to sign a player that is under contract with a KHL club.

But as of yesterday, that MOU has been suspended.

A memo from the NHL, obtained by Daily Face-off, spells out the NHL’s expectations at this point. From Frank Seravalli:

“The NHL instructed its teams to ‘immediately cease all dealings [direct or indirect] with the KHL and KHL Clubs [and all representatives of both], as well as with player agents who are based in and continue to do business in Russia.”

The memo emphasized that the two leagues will cease all communication with each other. This suggests that future MOU’s are in danger, as long as Russia’s un-provoked invasion of Ukraine continues.

It also mentions that any NHL clubs wishing to sign players currently on KHL teams, must have “independent written evidence demonstrating that the player is entirely free of any and all potentially conflicting contractual obligations in the KHL for 2022-23 and beyond.”

Essentially this means if a player is on an expiring contract this year, an NHL club can sign them. As long as they have independent written evidence proving they are free to sign (i.e., the NHL club cannot communicate with the KHL club at all, so they better already have the proof).

So where does this leave the Nashville Predators and presumed future ace goaltender Yaroslav Askarov?

Preds could sign Askarov sooner rather than later

For the most part, this news only affects players who have not been drafted by NHL teams. It mostly affects free agents that might look to leave KHL this year to join NHL. Andrei Kuzmenko is one example.

But it could lead to NHL GMs rushing to sign their drafted players who are currently playing the KHL. That’s the situation David Poile finds himself in with Yaroslav Askarov, whom he drafted in the first round of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.

Nashville Predators Yaroslav Askarov David Poile
Nashville Predators captain Roman Josi holding up a Yaroslav Askarov jersey at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, which was held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yaroslav Askarov’s contract with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg expires after this season. It was already likely Poile would try to sign Askarov this summer. But Askarov, who is only 19 years old, could sign an extension in St. Petersburg if he doesn’t feel like he would get the chance to compete in the NHL yet.

But this news of the NHL-KHL suspending communication likely means Poile is going to do everything he can to sign Askarov as soon as possible, securing his best prospect in decades and avoiding a massive headache exacerbated by geopolitical circumstances.

Askarov’s KHL team is still in the playoffs, so Poile would have to wait until Askarov’s season is over to sign him to the Nashville Predators.

As soon as that happens, I’d expect Poile to make signing his top goaltending prospect a priority.

Askarov in Milwaukee as soon as next year?

If the Preds end up signing Askarov this summer (or whenever his KHL season is over), Preds fans could see their top goaltending prospect in Milwaukee as early as next year.

This is something our friends at On The Future pointed out on Twitter:

With Juuse Saros the starting goaltender in Nashville, and in the first year of a four year contract, Askarov would not jump to Nashville right way. He would need some seasoning in the AHL to adjust to the North American game.

More than likely in this scenario, Askarov would become the starting goaltender in Milwaukee, with Connor Ingram the backup to Saros in Nashville.

Then it would only be a matter of a couple years before Askarov is in Nashville, where he’s expected to be one of the best goaltending prospects the NHL has seen in years.

But what if the David Poile can’t get a deal done? What if Askarov doesn’t want to leave Russia yet? What if the Nashville Predators don’t have “independent written evidence” (seems unlikely they wouldn’t have it, but you never know)? What if this Russian invasion continues on into next year, further cutting off all ties between the NHL and KHL?

Obviously, there are much more important worries relating to that possibility. Things that go far beyond ice hockey.

I expect David Poile will get a deal done (just like I expect him to get a deal done with Filip Forsberg) with the NHL-KHL news from yesterday being the main reason why.