A U.S. District Court judge yesterday set a schedule for the legal proceedings in Moscow Dynamo's lawsuit against Washington Capitals rookie Alex Ovechkin, which should ensure a resolution before the end of the regular season.
At stake is whether Ovechkin will continue to play for the Capitals or be forced to return to Dynamo, the Russian Super League team for which he competed the past four seasons. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan scheduled the next hearing for Dec. 21, when, among other things, he will consider whether the court has jurisdiction in the matter.
"It's our position [the court] doesn't have jurisdiction, based on what was filed," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
Multiple sources have indicated that Dynamo doesn't want Ovechkin to return to play for the team, but instead wants money for the rising star. Dynamo chairman Anatoly Kharchuk has repeatedly refuted that claim in media reports.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 18, seeks to have a U.S. court enforce an award by a Russian arbitration board, which comprised Russian hockey officials. The arbitration board ruled Dynamo, not the Capitals, is the rightful owner of Ovechkin's contractual rights for the 2005-06 season. The Capitals drafted Ovechkin No. 1 overall in June 2004.
Ovechkin left Dynamo in April after helping it capture the Russian Super League championship and signed a contract with rival team Avangard Omsk for the 2005-06 season. His contract with Omsk contained an "out" clause allowing him to back out of the deal by July 20th and join the Capitals. But Dynamo matched Omsk's offer of a one-year contract for $1.8 million. Dynamo's offer, however, did not include an "out" clause.
"That is the only, thin, thin hook they have in this case," Ovechkin's attorney, Peter Sherwin, told the judge yesterday, adding that he will move to dismiss. Sherwin, of Proskauer Rose, specializes in international arbitration practice.
Ovechkin, the Capitals' leading scorer with 15 goals and 10 assists, was in Florida with the team yesterday. Bill Sammons of Tydings & Rosenberg was the lead attorney for Dynamo. Daly, Capitals lawyer Don Fishman and a representative for the NHL Players' Association were also present.
In other legal matters, a hearing in the Capitals' lawsuit against Alexander Semin is scheduled for this afternoon in U.S. District Court in Washington. Semin, a 2002 first-round draft pick who remains under contract to the Capitals, has repeatedly ignored his obligations to the team and has instead played professional hockey in his native Russia the past 14 months. The Capitals are seeking a preliminary injunction that would preclude Semin from continuing to play in Russia. A ruling in the Semin case could come in the next few days.