This is Aleksey Morozov. In Pittsburgh he may be called Alexei Moron-ov, but back in Mother Russia he is a legend of hockey.
Morozov of course fled the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2004 after seven seasons of teasing and disappointment. Despite being a first round pick and even for a while playing on a line with Mario Lemieux and Alexei Kovalev, Morozov's NHL days were less than noteworthy at best.
He returned to Russia where he has been the best player outside of the NHL ever since. He has won MVP awards and rewritten the Russian record book.
On Sunday he scored the only goal in a 1-0 game seven win, giving his AK Bars Kazan team the KHL's inaugural Gagarin Cup.
There has been no shortage of talk about the KHL in the 6-12 months. Funded by well moneyed and sometimes sketchy oil billionaires, the KHL made headlines in drawing Jaromir Jagr away from the NHL last summer. They threw around money as if there was no tomorrow, and operated their business in a way that was completely unsustainable if the money ever dried up.
Then came the global economic crisis. There has been much speculation about the KHL's future, from Jaromir Jagr's possible return to the possible inability to compete against the NHL for talent.
Alexei Morozov has resisted a number of NHL contract offers since the lockout, preferring to be the big fish in the small pond, not to mention the better money and tax situation and the ability to play at home.
You will be hearing a lot of Morozov in the coming months.
In a couple of weeks he will be front and center as part of Russia's team at the world championships, where he has enjoyed great success in the past. Before suffering a minor knee injury he absolutely dominated that tourney back in 2007 when he was named as the best forward. In 2008 he helped Russia win gold. In fact, Russia has a perfect 14-0 record in the last two years at this tournament when Morozov played.
Morozov will also be in Vancouver come February 2010. He will headline a number of players from the Russian leagues who will help NHLers like Alexander Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk in the charge for gold.
Is there any chance Morozov could be lured back to the NHL? I believe he is under contract to AK Bars next season, although that seems to mean little in NHL-KHL's frosty relations. But I highly doubt Morozov would want to leave. The only way would be if the oil money ever truly ran dry in Russia, something which will not happen.
The best player not in the NHL today likely will never come back.
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