It’s no secret that the KHL and it’s member teams are struggling financially. The uncapped nature of the international league has led to a wide gap in competitive balance and an inflation in salaries that the teams toward the bottom have a hard time paying, but still have to sign if they hope to stay somewhat competitive. However, those decisions have caught up to many clubs who in many cases delayed their payments to players by months at a time and, beginning this off-season, were even forced to cut good players who they simply could not afford.
This unfortunate pattern has not ended and the most recent casualty is young goaltender Ivan Nalimov. Nalimov, who was a sixth-round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks back in 2014, has been developing his game in his native Russia with Admiral Vladivostok ever since. Yet, in the midst of a breakout campaign, Nalimov was forced to terminate his contract with the team, citing financial struggles as the main reason, according to KHL insider Aivis Kalnins. Admiral, who sits at the bottom of the KHL’s Chernyshev Division, has the unfortunate and unchangeable situation of being the farthest east team in a league primarily located in western Russia. With high travel expenses and a poor record, the team clearly felt they had little reason to keep paying some of their best – and most well-compensated – players and did not work quickly to solve their payment problems. That apparently includes the 23-year-old Nalimov, who has an impeccable 1.98 GAA and .942 save percentage in 17 games this season. Those numbers place Nalimov among the top goaltenders in the KHL this season, alongside New York Rangers prospect Igor Shestyorkin and veteran Swedish superstar Lars Johansson. However, while those goalies’ teams lead their respective divisions and the pair will get the chance to contend for a title this season, Nalimov’s future is now a total unknown.
So what’s next for Nalimov? The Athletic’s Scott Powers says not the NHL. Agent Shumi Babaev told Powers that they are assessing their options, but no discussions have been had with Chicago GM Stan Bowman and Nalimov is not anticipating a jump overseas just yet. Despite the young goalie’s impressive season, the Blackhawks are set at the NHL level in goal and Nalimov would rather play in the KHL than AHL. He could certainly benefit from more development time in Europe anyway. There’s no clear answer right now as to what the next step is for Nalimov, though simply signing with another KHL team, one with a more stable financial status, seems highly likely. The talented young keeper is certainly worth keeping an eye on as he determines how his hockey future will proceed.