The Shipachyov Show
On May 4th the Vegas Golden Knights announced the signing of 30-year-old Vadim Shipachyov from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). At $9million spanning over two years, Shipachyov became the second signing for the expansion team.
“Vadim is a highly skilled play-maker who has had an impressive career in the Kontinental Hockey League. He has won two KHL championships, has been among the league leaders in scoring the last two seasons and has enjoyed success at the international level for Team Russia. We believe he can be an impact player in the NHL.” — Vegas Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee.
News outlets began reporting that the Golden Knights had found their gem in the form of a Russian superstar.
“If Shipachyov had gone to an established club, chances are he would have had to fight for minutes or battle to keep his spot in the lineup. That’s unlikely to be the case in Vegas, where top-flight scorers will be few and far between no matter how strong the expansion draft stands to be. Shipachyov should, at the very least, get every chance to succeed in the top six.” — the Hockey News
Fast forward six months and Shipachyov has been limited to 26 minutes in three games, failed to report to their AHL affiliate (twice), been given permission to seek a trade, and is currently suspended without pay.
As hockey fans, we are left wondering what happened.
In an attempt to break this down, I want to start with his time spent in the KHL.
Prior to joining the Vegas Golden Knights, Vadim Shipachyov had spent the last four seasons playing for the St. Petersburg SKA in St. Petersburg, Russia. A team which has won the Gagarin Cup twice in the last three years, and features players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Artemi Panarin (now in Columbus), and Ilya Kovalchuk. For those of you new to the sport, those three players have a combined 1,895 points in the NHL (It feels wrong summarizing them into a single sentence).
During his time in St. Petersburg, Shipachyov netted 67 goals, dished out 155 assists, and averaged a +/- of 14.
His success in the league piqued the interest of NHL teams, and in 2016 the Montreal Canadiens appeared to be on the verge of signing him. The bottom eventually fell out when his contract termination request was denied and a pay raise was given.
“I had the intentions of coming to North America, but my contract prevented me from doing that. That’s why I stayed in St. Petersburg. But it’s still my dream to come play in the NHL. I want to play at that level and to challenge myself to see how I will manage.”
His dream would become a reality on May 4th of this year. The Vegas Golden Knights won the bidding war and signed him with a cap hit of $4.5 million a year for two years.
Although it was assumed by the masses that he would become the top center, he failed to make the roster following training camp.
With questions arising as to why he was sent down to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant stated that it was due to contractual reasons relating to the 23-man roster and not his ability to play at the NHL level.
His opportunity would come on October 15th against the Boston Bruins as Erik Haula was placed on the injured reserve list with a lower body injury
Although he scored in the second period, his overall first look was underwhelming. He seemed disconnected and appeared to struggle with the pace of the game. There are numerous reasons floating around as to why, but I will save those for another discussion.
After three sub-par performances, limited ice time, and players returning from the injured reserve, he was sent back to Chicago. He was a full participant in his first practice before leaving for Vegas without contacting the organization. While it is fair to say that he needs more time to adjust, the argument becomes less relevant with each failure to report. The AHL is a perfect place to do so.
It is impossible to place yourself in his position. He uprooted his family and two young daughters to a foreign country, with a language they do not speak, on the belief that he would be playing in Vegas. I get that, but he has to acknowledge that it was ultimately his decision to come here.
The Golden Knights are a team that relies on each player to prove themselves every day. The simple thought that one deserves a spot on the roster because of name or player history, is counter to everything this team represents. Heart feeds their wins, not ego. Fans recognizing this, and it’s why you see support for Shipachyov falling while people line up to purchase Alex Tuch jerseys.
Although we can make wide ranging speculations, the fact of the matter is that if he is not traded or he fails to report by Monday, his contract can be terminated. At that point, I wish him the best of luck, but lets move on and get back to watching our boys prove the world wrong.