Russian winger Danis Zaripov cleared to pursue NHL contract

Russia forward Danis Zaripov. (Darko Bandic/AP)

Danis Zaripov will get the chance to take his talents to North America after the NHL approved the Russian winger’s eligibility following a doping ban in the Kontinental Hockey League and international play.

The 36-year-old Zaripov is free to sign with any team and could be the latest established Russian player to make an immediate impact in the NHL. Agent Dan Milstein said Zaripov is looking for a one-year contract so he can prove himself.

"He’s going to be a huge contributor to whatever team that he will choose," Milstein said.

Even that is only possible after the NHL ruled that the suspension by the KHL and International Ice Hockey Federation wouldn’t have happened under its rules and found Zaripov eager to show he didn’t intentionally use a banned substance.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Monday that Zaripov was cleared in part because pseudoephedrine is not on the NHL/NHL Players’ Association prohibited substances list and that he was not allowed to testify at his hearing for the initial suspension . He added that the league approved Zaripov’s status after the veteran forward testified last week and it reviewed evidence related to the suspension.

"I look forward to continuing my professional hockey playing career in North America, and today I am very grateful to the senior management of the NHL for its decision, which provides me the opportunity to do so," Zaripov said in a statement.

"Even though I now have a chance to play in the best league in the world, I plan to continue my appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to prove my right case and clear my name."

Zaripov, who had never tested positive for a banned substance before, agreed to submit to additional testing if he signs a contract as part of what Daly called "a meaningful demonstration of good faith and his bona fide desire to safeguard his name and reputation."

Even though he had his KHL contract terminated and was banned by the IIHF until 2019, Zaripov is expected to draw significant interest around the league.

Milstein said teams were initially warned by the NHL about the three players suspended by the IIHF: Zaripov, Canadian defenceman Derek Smith and Russian defenceman Andrei Konev. Out of respect for the league’s process, he avoided contacting executives to talk about a contract until Zaripov was cleared.

"Beginning today we’re open for business," Milstein said by phone. "We’re going to be talking to a number of teams. Danis wants to win. He’s a winner at heart. He’s won at every level."

Zaripov won the KHL’s Gagarin Cup four times and the world hockey championship three times. He also represented Russia at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

After a 45-point season with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Zaripov led the league with 15 goals and had seven assists in 18 playoff games.

"Danis Zaripov has a reputation in Russia what Pavel Datsyuk was here," Milstein said, referring to the Detroit Red Wings great who signed in the KHL last year. "He’s an outstanding, world-class player."

A six-time All-Star at home, Zaripov recorded 121 goals and 135 assists for 256 points in 436 KHL games.