KHL team in Sochi, a key part of Olympic legacy, leaves players unpaid for more than 2 months

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MOSCOW — The Kontinental Hockey League team in Sochi, a major part of the Russian city's legacy from last year's Winter Olympics, has not paid its players in more than two months.

HC Sochi and the head of the KHL Players' Trade Union, former Edmonton Oilers forward Andrei Kovalenko, said the club has financial problems and last paid its players in January.

The club has promised to resolve the issue by April 30. Under league rules, the club must resolve debts to players by the end of May in order to compete in the next KHL season.

"I think they'll manage it," Kovalenko told The Associated Press.

Team spokesman Dmitry Isaichev told the AP that "everyone will get everything" they are owed and that the club's financial struggles have come as a surprise.

"I can't say exactly what situation has occurred, but it's extraordinary, a situation that no one could have planned for," Isaichev. "We couldn't pay the players their wages, but we warned them immediately that they would receive everything in full."

Many of the KHL's mostly Russian teams have experienced financial problems this season as Russia's economy heads for recession this year.

A combination of international sanctions and the low oil price have caused financial headaches for the state-owned energy companies and Russian regional governments which fund most of the KHL's teams. HC Sochi has been part-funded by both its regional government and the state gas company Gazprom this season.

Kovalenko said HC Sochi's players, who include two Canadians and two Americans, were prepared to wait and see if the club could pay by the April 30 deadline before filing a possible request for free agency.

"There's two ways we can work," Kovalenko said. "The first way is that we apply to the disciplinary committee to tear up the contracts, we start to dispute with the club, and we'd definitely win that case because there's more than two months of wage delays. But the players say they don't want to go arbitration and they'll wait until the 30th."

HC Sochi is the only professional sports team to use a Sochi Olympic facility. Despite hockey having almost no history in southern Russia, HC Sochi has posted some of the highest average crowds in the league during its debut season at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.

The season is already over for HC Sochi, which lost to CSKA Moscow in the first round of the playoffs.

At least five teams have been reported in Russian media to be at risk of withdrawing from the KHL for financial reasons. They include Slovakian team Slovan Bratislava, Atlant Moscow Region and Admiral Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, a team co-founded by NHL great Slava Fetisov.

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