Joffrey Lupul may have signed with a KHL team

Remember when the Kontinental Hockey League swore that the only NHLers who would be allowed to seek lockout shelter playing for Russia’s top-flight league would be the ones who met an admittedly not-so-stringent criteria?

Again, here’s the KHL’s own criteria:

– Has played no fewer than 150 games in the NHL over the last three seasons; 
– Has experience of playing in the KHL; 
– Represented his country at one of the last two IIHF World Championships, World Junior Championships or the Olympics; 
– Is a Stanley Cup winner, a Stanley Cup finalist, or a winner of one of the individual prizes awarded by the National Hockey League at the close of the season.

You’ll notice that none of these criteria apply to Joffrey Lupul, but rumours have surfaced suggesting that Lupul is off to Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg, probably because Lupul told Sportsnet last night of his intention to sign with the club, but nothing official has been announced.

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It wouldn’t be the first instance of the KHL breaking its own rules. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that, yes, Lupul going to Russia would not violate the “spirit” of the rule. He was one of the top point-scorers in the NHL last year, just one of eight point-a-game guys who saw major minutes in the NHL last season.

Where is Yekaterinburg? It is here. Go to the middle of nowhere, take a right, keep driving, and you’re not there yet:

Who is on Avtomobilist? The only names I could recognize from the roster other than coach Igor Ulanov, a former Edmonton Oiler, was Sergey Gusev. Gusev spent some time with Dallas and Tampa Bay in the NHL towards the end of the 1990s (how they hell do I remember that name?). The only other North American-born player is former New York Rangers-select Chris Holt, who was the United States’ backup at the 2003 World Juniors.

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The other notable Avtomobilist player is Branislav Mezei, a former No. 10 overall selection of the New York Islanders from 1999. He played 240 games, his last in 2008 with the Panthers, and took off the Russia.

How good is Avtomobilist? Well, not real good, apparently. They’ve won just 4 of their 21 games, one of those in a shootout, and have been outscored 42-75. That’s the worst offensive team in the league, and the second worst defensive team in the league, although Yugra, who have conceded 77 goals, have also played one more game.

Maybe the KHL are letting Avto break the rule because they need all the help they can get.

Anyway, if anything official is announced out of the KHL, we’ll let you know. If not, well, this post will stand up here in infamy forever, as the brief moment the Toronto hockey media worried too much a last place Russian club.

UPDATE (1:57 EST)James Mirtle is reporting the signing, but still no official word from the club.

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