Pavel Datsyuk won’t be the only former NHL player signing in the KHL today. R-Sport in Russia is reporting that Philadelphia Flyers forward Jori Lehtera has signed a one-year deal with SKA St. Petersburg, while Jokerit Helsinki have announced they agreed to terms with Montreal Canadiens goaltender Antti Niemi on a one-year deal. Both players are technically still under NHL contract through the end of the month, but are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1.
Lehtera, 31, never did work out in Philadelphia after coming over from the St. Louis Blues in 2017, and found himself in the minor leagues this season after clearing waivers. Add that demotion to a drug-related charge in Finland and it’s easy to see why he is leaving the NHL landscape for Russia to continue his career. This won’t be the first time he suits up in the KHL, as Lehtera spent four years dominating the league before ever playing in the NHL. His final season, 2013-14, he registered 44 points in 48 games and will try to get back to that level of offensive production.
Niemi meanwhile struggled last season with the Canadiens and likely wasn’t going to find another NHL backup role. Once a top young goaltender who took the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory, the 35-year old’s play has deteriorated to the point where he was bought out by Dallas and played for three different teams in 2017-18. His .887 save percentage in the most recent season wasn’t enough for the Canadiens to retain him, especially when they have Charlie Lindgren ready to compete for an NHL spot behind Carey Price.