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Former Toronto Maple Leaf Nikolay Kulemin wins court battle in quest for Canadian citizenship
Gepost door  redactie redactie Gepostop  27-10-2018 18:41 27-10-2018 18:41 348  keer gelezen 348 keer gelezen  0 reacties0 reacties News News
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NewsBrian Platt

The affidavit describes his attachment to Toronto and how he had instructed his agent to keep him with the team. He especially liked Brian Burke

In ten seasons in the NHL, Nikolay Kulemin never won a Stanley Cup — but he can at least chalk up a victory in Canada’s Federal Court.

A judge has ordered a new citizenship hearing for Kulemin and his wife Natalia, who are both Russian, in their battle to become Canadian citizens. Justice Catherine Kane has quashed a previous ruling that the Kulemins spent too much time out of the country while he played with the Toronto Maple Leafs, including a return to Russia during the 2012 NHL lockout.

The case has seen the courts grapple with the “vagaries” of life as a professional hockey player, including the imbalance between Canadian and American NHL teams, the uncertainty around labour issues and the pressure on players to sign the best contract available.

Evidence filed includes affidavits from NHL players and an agent, Kulemin’s thoughts on the management changes in the Toronto Maple Leafs, and even a reference to the Leafs’ infamous 2013 first-round playoff loss to the Boston Bruins, in which the team blew a 4-1 third-period lead in the final minutes of game seven.

Kulemin was born in 1986 in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city in central Russia. The Maple Leafs drafted him in 2006, and he played left wing for the team from 2008 to 2014, signing two contract extensions along the way. He potted 121 goals over ten seasons in the NHL; his best came in 2010-11, when he scored 30 for the Leafs.

Russia has given me a lot but I now consider Canada home and my children deserve the opportunity to live in a free and democratic country.

The Kulemins filed for Canadian citizenship in December 2014, nearly six months after Nikolay entered free agency and signed a four-year, US $16.75-million contract with the New York Islanders. They finally got a hearing in the fall of 2017, which focused on the four-year span of their lives between Dec. 26, 2010 and Dec. 26, 2014.

“Russia has given me a lot but I now consider Canada home and my children deserve the opportunity to live in a free and democratic country,” Kulemin said in his affidavit for the hearing.

It described his growing attachment to Toronto and how he had always instructed his agent to keep him with the team. He especially liked Brian Burke, the team’s general manager at the time, describing him as “passionate, fair and knowledgeable.”

But the NHL locked out its players before the start of the 2012-13 season, and Kulemin went back to Magnitogorsk to play for the professional team there. His family, including his two young children, came with him. “No one knew how long this lockout would last and I did not want to be separated from my family,” he wrote.

When the season finally began in January 2013, he was excited to return — and the Leafs saw success. “We had a young team, played dynamite hockey and finally after nine years we made the playoffs,” he wrote. “The city was energized and fully behind us.”

Then disaster struck as they fell to the Bruins in the playoffs. Kulemin called it “a devastating loss that will remain with all of us for the rest of our lives.” (He was on the ice for all three third-period goals.)

Things took another bad turn for him in April 2014, when Brendan Shanahan became the Leafs’ new general manager. “I believe that Mr. Shanahan wanted to change the club’s ‘culture’ and many players signed by the previous regime were subsequently either traded or not offered new contracts,” Kulemin wrote.

He instructed his agent to find him a contract with another Canadian NHL team when his contract expired that summer, but to no avail. “I did not receive a substantive offer from Toronto nor did I receive any tangible and/or substantive offers from any other Canadian teams.”

In an affidavit, Kulemin’s agent Gary Greenstein said he urged Kulemin to sign the best deal, which was with the Islanders.

“If Mr. Kulemin chose to forgo all United States based offers to stay in Canada for substantially less money, the NHLPA (the players union) would have taken a real issue with his decision as it does not benefit the union to have players take unfavorable deals when they have significantly better options available,” Greenstein wrote, going on to argue Kulemin had “no real choice.”

In a decision dated Nov. 29, 2017, Citizenship Judge Albert Wong rejected the Kulemins’ application, concluding they had not kept a strong enough connection to Canada in the years leading up to 2014, particularly when the family moved to Russia for the lockout.

They challenged the decision in Federal Court, arguing Wong had erred in how he weighed the evidence and that previous court decisions had recognized that “a person can be resident in Canada, even while temporarily absent, so long as he or she maintains strong attachments to Canada.”

They pointed to Kulemin’s volunteer work with local minor hockey groups, his business interests in Toronto, his ownership of property in the city and his social ties — including an affidavit from his close friend and former teammate Nikolay Antropov, who now lives in Toronto.

In a decision posted online this week, Federal Court Justice Kane agreed.

“In my view, the Applicants provided a reasonable explanation for returning together to Russia, given that Mr. Kulemin would be unlikely to have any time with his wife and young children if they remained in Canada,” she wrote.

Lev Abramovich, Kulemin’s lawyer, said they don’t know how long it will take to get a new citizenship hearing. He also pointed out that while the citizenship rules were reformed in 2015 to make the residency criteria much clearer, Kulemin’s case will still be heard under the old, vaguer rules, so it’s hard to say what the chances of success are.

Kulemin’s career, meanwhile, has seen another twist. After an injury-plagued season in New York last year, his contract expired. He’s now back in Russia, playing again on a contract for the Magnitogorsk Metallurg.

“NHL careers are quite short,” Kulemin said in his original affidavit, describing why he had to always take the best contract. “Players have to ensure they protect themselves financially for the long term once our playing days end.”

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