Wednesday, July 16, 2008

To Russia With Love?

1) Many are asking themselves, "Is the new Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) a real threat to the NHL? Many including our friend over at The puckstopshere think it is. We will attempt to wade through the hype both real and trumped up and the realities of this fledgling rival to the NHL's prowess on the world stage.

2) So what IS the KHL? Well its really not a new hockey league. Its merely an ambitious expansion of the existing Russian elite league. A few Russian oil barons/entrepreneurs got together and decided to rename/expand the league and give it a new flashy name to try to compete with the NHL and other European elite leagues for talent.

3) Firstly, what are some of the advantages that the new KHL have over the NHL?

  • Tax free income- This is a huge incentive. Imagine adding an additional 30%(or more) on top of your salary? Taxes have kept/dissuaded players from playing in Canada, especially Quebec in the past, so its no surprise that this could be a nice incentive for players to earn nice pay and avoid the tax man

  • Shorter season- The KHL is slated to have 56 games in its initial season. Significantly shorter than the 82 game marathon the NHL currently employs. The long season then potentially long playoffs takes its toll physically on players. To be able to cut their season by a 1/3 or more and make good money at the same time is a nice bonus

  • Russians and some Euros might feel less home sick playing at home. This is certainly a huge factor for Russian born players. Imagine leaving your home at age 18 to work where you know little of the language and culture. In stead you are given a chance to stay home where your family and friends are, and still make about the same money? The KHL is trying to use Russian nationalism to try to lure players to stay and play in 'Mother Russia'

  • Big Russian oil money: This is the underlying engine that is driving the Russian economy these days. When the price of oil collapsed in the late 80's the USSR died with it. The surge in oil has fueled the economy and more importantly lined the pockets of a few elite 'businessmen/corrupt politicians/Russian mob bosses, etc. These are the folks who by and large own the teams that make up the KHL. Its their diversion/past time from their other 'activities'.

4) Possible disadvantages:

  • Hard to attract top flight North American-born talent to play abroad. Few players in their primes will willingly leave the comfort of home to play where English is not spoken, and the creature comforts we take for granted are not wide spread. If Eric Lindros thought Quebec city wasn't a place to live,work and raise a family, how many top North American born NHL players will want to go to obscure/smaller Russian cities to live and work?

  • Huge amount of travel. If you thought going from LA to NY was brutal (2,800 miles), try going from Amur Khabarovsk to Dinamo Riga (4,500 miles!) The other KHL teams are also spread far apart so to be 'on a long road trip' may have a new meaning in Russia.

  • Piss-poor facilities: Some of these arenas we're told are in very poor shape. Ice conditions are worse than a typical hot day in MSG (not good). NHL players who are accustomed to the best of the best will be in for a rude awakening when they have to practice in facilities where they are sharing a bathroom with the general public. LOL

  • Russia is still a 3rd world country. (See above) The many creature comforts even those of us working class people take for granted are hard to come by in Russia of 2008. There isn't a Home Depot/Circuit City/ Target, etc on every corner like we see here in the US. These guys may have money, but being rich in a poor country has its distinct disadvantages.

  • Teams owned by crooks/mafia/corrupt politicians: Sure that sounds like the NHL, but in reality there is no comparison to the rampant corruption over in the old Soviet Union. Many players who went over there to play during the last Bettman lockout got stiffed millions of dollars. With many judges in the back pockets of these oil barons/Russian mafia, etc owners these players have no recourse to recoup that cash, so folks going over there to get rich better keep their eyes on their wallets and ask for the cash up front!

5) So how does the KHL stack up so far? Well many made a big deal over the signing of former Ranger Jaromir Jagr to Avangard Omsk. While it made a nice headline it hardly signals a trend that has the NHL shaking in their boots. So who else is going over there?
  • • G Ray Emery, Ottawa Senators to Atlant Mytishchi (KHL)• F Josef Vasicek, Islanders to Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (KHL) • )• F Stefan Ruzicka, Philadelphia Flyers to Spartak Moscow (KHL) • F Marcel Hossa, Phoenix Coyotes to Dinamo Riga (KHL) • G Wade Dubielewicz, Islanders to Ak Bars Kazan (KHL)• F Martin Straka, Rangers to HCL Plzen (CZE) • D Jon Klemm, Los Angeles Kings to Straubing Tigers (DEL)
  • If your a follower of the NHL you probably won't miss any of the folks not named Jagr. As for JJ, sure he could still be considered a top NHL player, but he's not the same dominating force he was even 2-3 years ago. He will be missed, but even Jagr will admit it was his plan all along to 'retire from the NHL' with a deal in Europe. While we won't sugar coat his loss to the NHL, we believe his departure will NOT cause an avalanche of younger players to leave to play in Russia either

6) What might cause the KHL to become a true NHL rival?

  • If the NHL salary cap begins to contract. Not expecting this any time soon. In fact it'll probably continue is drift higher at least for the next 2 years, up to nearly 60-65 million. However if: a) the US economy truly goes into recession(it hasn't as of this date) b) the CN dollar shrinks to its early 90 levels c) Oil stays or goes even higher then its conceivable that the NHL won't increase its income, and it could deflate causing the subsequent cap to go down. Thus making the KHL more attractive to high end talent

  • If there is any new work stoppage in the NHL. This clearly could happen in 4 years when this CBA expires. We won't go into the details, but we at FAUXRUMORS are on record predicting another work stoppage as owners attempt to end guaranteed contracts. This could flood the KHL with players fleeing the NHL for work. You could even see substantial North American born/trained players go to Europe/Russia to continue their careers as the NHL is locked out yet again.

7) How can the KHL can start to attract top players in their primes? We believe that our above negative factors will continue to seriously dissuade top/impact players from defecting to the KHL. (The Radulov situation still is unresolved as of this printing) However if the previous 2 'causes' occur then we could finally see a shift of significant talent resources to Europe/Russia and at that time, and that time only would we pronounce the KHL as a true rival league. Until then, they are mere annoyance and a refuge for the lesser/older player.


POOOH said...

Boys probly like that picure, no? hehehe
so what happen to our player that wants back to russia? is he gone back there or will can he forced to come back?

The Puck Stops Here said...

It all depends how you define threat. I think the working definition of threat that you use would not define the WHA as a threat. They were mostly over the hill and fringe NHLers and Europeans. But they were a threat to the NHL. Attendance dipped considerably during the WHA years.

If by threat you mean can the KHL put the NHL out of business? Then no, they are likely not a threat and never will be.

The KHL is a league that has attracted a few of the best players in the world and most likely will continue to do so. The NHL is no longer the league with all of the best players in the world (it has most of the best players but not all).

The rise of the KHL is one of the bigger problems the NHL has to deal with right now and it could quite likely get bigger in the future. I think its quite likely the level of play in the NHL will dip due to some loss of talent to the KHL. That concerns me.

Nuker said...

Hi! I'm from Russia and I want to tell ya what I think about this article and about whole "KHL Vs. NHL" situation. It really makes me wanna laugh and cry at the same time when I read something like this. What about salaries - it's true that now some Russian team can sign some big contracts, because they do have a lot of money now. For example, Salavat Yulayev (the last season Russian Champion) now can afford themselves to have 5 World Champions (including Radulov) it their roster. They now have amount of money comparable with NHL teams. But the reason why they have so much money IS NOT that their bosses are criminals and they are covered by Russian Mafia. Man, if you really think so - you s*ck. They are mostly sponsored by Republic of Bashkortostan’s government. Now it is not 90's when everything was under criminals' control. Man, we live in 21st century. Or maybe you also think that Hitler is still Germany's President? Eh? And this phrase: “Russia is still a 3rd world country” just made me p*ssed off! This could only be told by a man who had never ever been to Russia. “There isn't a Home Depot/Circuit City/ Target, etc on every corner like we see here in the US.” S*it! I live in a small town of about 600000 people population in Siberia and it seems like we have hundreds of malls across the town. There is only one McDonald’s in our town but it doesn’t mean that this s*cks! That means that we have thousands of our own Russian fast foods and cafes! And as for me: I don’t need even this only freaken McDonald’s! OK? Piss-poor facilities? Did you see any Russian hockey arena yourself? Do think that having billions of $ our oil companies can not build good arenas for their teams? Now look at this:, this: and this one: . This are the arenas of Avangard Omsk (where Jagr will play), of Metallurg Magnitogors (where Malkin came from) and of Atlant Mytischi (where Emery is going to play). What the hell you call a “Piss-poor facilities”? “Teams owned by crooks/mafia/corrupt politicians”. OK! I also think that some of those guys are morons, but not all of them. And there is maybe a 90% of normal guys against 10% of morons! Do you have a quite different situation in US? I think no! 2 years ago I was in US on a NHL game between NY Rangers and Boston Bruins at Madison Square. Yes, it was fantastic, but it was the same like a game between Ak Bars (Kazan) and Metallurg (Magnitogorsk). And I mean that EVERYTHING was equal. Arena, number of fans, quality of play. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g! And the last one: Why are you always talking about “threat”. A threat of what? A threat that we’ll launch a nuclear missile? Or what? Are you paranoiac? Nobody in Russia think about being a threat for NHL! Nobody! We just want to make our own good league and make NHL stop stealing our young talents! Real threat is when a big dog chasing you and trying to bite your ass – this is what I think the word “threat” means! Calm down! There is no threat for you, except Afghanistan!


1) Pooh: Yes, we've had some reaction to the photo, but we don't plan on using provocative pics on a daily basis. LOL As for your question: Your alluding of course to Radulov's signing with a KHL team despite having a contract with the Preds. We don't see him returning. The Preds have almost made that impossible with their recent statements. Therefore we doubt you'll see him back in the NHL anytime soon.
2) PSH: We understand your WHA comparison but disagree that its apt. Its unlikely the NHL will feel a direct impact attendance-wise form the KHL UNLESS it starts to siphon off a significant number of top tier players from many teams. The WHA was vying for the same audience/customers that the NHL was. The KHL is vying for some of the same talent, but up till now the players lost to the NHL won't be noticed by the average paying NHL customer
3) Nuker: Welcome to the NA blogosphere and to FAUXRUMORS! Sorry if our post caused you some discomfort, but we tell it like we see it. We welcome differing view points such as yours. Yes, we have been to your country, though only to Moscow and Leningrad/Stalingrad/St .Petersburg. Have you traveled extensively in Canada or the states?
4) While we agree calling Russia 3rd world might be a bit of an exaggeration, and recently your economy has done well. The average Russian now makes about 500/month. However when you compare this to the US where its closer to 3000 clearly the standard of living is incomparable.
5) Not sure where you understood we felt a 'threat'. Only in terms of the KHL getting some talent that was previously in the NHL. We don't see Russia as an imminent military threat, although not a true allie either, but we'll settle for peaceful economic adversary. ; )
6) Anyway, we are sure that some of the more wealthy KHL teams play in nice arenas and have top practice facilities, but no way can you say that all do. Additionally there is no way you can deny that oil is the main factor in the cash that this league is relying upon for its support(direct or indirect). That's another reason players should think twice about committing to play there. Oil is a commodity, and as such its price is volatile. It may be very high right now, and even stay that way for a few years, but it could also drop significantly and that could lead to some serious issues that players over here would not have top deal with.
7) Yes, as we pan to write about soon, there are many corrupt/crooked NHL owners, but in comparison to their counterparts in the KHL they are like Mother Theresa, saints. This is not something we made up, this is from talking with people who live there! With your government by and large in bed with these folks we wouldn't trust the courts system to adjudicate a dispute if one would arise. Again, this is what we have been told by folks who live there. You may see things differently in your little section of Siberia, but many are telling us a different story. If things are so wonderful why would a guy like Malkin leave? He could have made the same amount of money, no? Anyway, we welcome your differing view points.

Nuker said...

Thanks for your answer. I can’t tell that your post caused any discomfort, but it didn’t really make me feel glad. Anyway – screw it. I agree with some of your points of view. It’s not really a heaven here in Russia, but I don’t think you could expect any other answer/reaction from anybody if you call their country “a third world”.

I’ve been only in U.S. twice. Mostly on the Eastern shore (New York, Maryland, Virginia, D.C.) and also spent some time in L.A. I saw a lot and I really liked it. And it’s really nice out there. But I can’t tell it’s like “day and night” comparing U.S. and Russia.

I agree if we’ll take the average American or Canadian hockey team and the average Russian team we’ll see the big difference in their infrastructure. But we are talking right now about the top teams. You said “NHL players who are accustomed to the best of the best will be in for a rude awakening when they have to practice in facilities where they are sharing a bathroom with the general public”. Are you sure?

About oil. It’s true that our economy depends on oil’s price, but it also depends on gas, gold and a lot of some different things… So it doesn’t depend only on oil. Anyway, I don’t think that guys who are coming to KHL in next few seasons should be worried about it. Anything can happen either to our and to any others’ else economy. And what I now is that U.S. economy is not in it’s best shape right now. But what I really don’t like is talking about politics and economy. Of course it’s a part of the hockey, but it shouldn’t be the main part. I hope in future we’ll talk more about hockey itself instead of discussing *hit like this.

And what about Malkin, I really like him as a player, but he’s a kind of renegade. The way he ran to NHL from Metallurg is not the way it had to be. I’ve heard something like he had a problems with managers of the team before leaving. And if you had some problems with something, I don’t think you’ll come back there. Do you think Radulov will ever come back to Nashville? Probably no. That’s the same stuff with Malkin.

I often visit your web-site and also PuckThatHit and I find your articles very interesting. But this one just made me angr… Eeerr… Made me answer...

Dominik said...

I've been meaning to do a post like this for a while; glad you guys put this together. (Not intending any hint of, "oh, I totally thought this first but was just too lazy" by that. I'm just bummed this "side" of the story hasn't drawn much attention.)

Anyway, I largely agree with your assessment. The whole C(K)HL scenario fills me with ennui. To me, it boils down to this:

1) Thus far, the players Russia "steals" are no great loss to North American fans. They might even be a bonus, in that they're taking players we'd mostly rather not see (usually character/effort/talent issues) and opening up chances for skilled youngsters here. I don't see that changing unless the economics become vastly different. The best hockey players of North America -- and there appears to be an endless supply of them -- still dream of winning Cups at home.

2) If -- granted, a big if -- the NHL fixes its own problems (not specifically KHL-related), this threat become irrelevant. If the NHL doesn't -- such as if there's another lockout -- it will shoot itself quite ably, without the KHL's help.

3) True, the price of oil is high, and not receding anytime soon. But in 10-15 years, if the world is still primarily dependent on oil for its energy -- and on the corrupt Middle East and Russian government/barons whose hands control the dwindling supply -- we will have much, much bigger concerns than whether Federov Jr. ditches the Las Vegas Predators for a multi-million-ruble deal with the Chernobyl Cockroaches.

On another note, it is amusing to see the Russian figures playing "see how it feels?" with the NHL, demanding transfer fees and such. You reap what you sow.



1) Nuker: All points of view are welcomed on this blog. Glad to have ya on board, and to get the view points from someone on the other side of the world.
2) Dominick:We agree that some are making a bit too much over the KHL. Its a nice second option for a lot of guys who are not quite good enough to make it big here, or for older players hanging on and a few others like Radulov/Morozov who prefer to stay closer to home
3) Until it starts to attract large numbers of the top tier Russian/European talent AND top North Americans start to go there will we consider the KHL a NHL rival league.

ranndino said...

You really do call it like you see it. That's the problem. The ignorant stereotypes that still exist about Russia for most people in the West are clearly on display here.

Even the fact that you stuck Stalingrad in your reply shows just how ignorant you are about Russia. Stalingrad has nothing to do with Leningrad / St.Petersburg. It's a totally different city in a totally different part of Russia and is now called Volgograd.

Russia is very far from a 3rd world country these days. There are the same malls, shops, restaurants, etc. as in North America. The nightlife of Moscow and St.Petersburg compares favorably to any North American city, including NYC. If you look at the makeup of the KHL there are a ton of teams from Moscow and the surrounding region. Moscow is a metropolis with every imaginable aspect of any major European or North American city.

I'm not as knowledgeable about some of the more remote Russian cities which now boast some of the top hockey clubs like Omsk and Magnitogorsk, but I'm sure that they're also quite far from the definition of a 3rd world country.

I'm also not sure about all the arenas in the KHL, but some are brand new and adhere to all the state of the art standards.

While your article attempts to be objective it unfortunately spreads a lot of disinformation based on almost complete ignorance. One piece of advice that I would offer is try to research some of the "facts" before pulling them out of your ass and putting them into your articles. Otherwise your credibility takes a major blow.

The stuff about Russian being a 3rd world country, facilities being total shite, players having been jipped out of their salaries during the last NHL lockout, 90% of KHL owners being crooks, etc has no factual basis whatsoever. You can't just make stuff up and consider that good writing.

One last point and a good example of how completely unchecked information seeps into your articles (and with the internet at your fingertips this type of stuff is very easy to check) the median household income in the United States in 2004 was only $43,389 per year. Keep in mind that this is household income, not per person. So the source of the number you quoted when defending your ignorant statement about Russia being a 3rd world country of $3,000 a month average was again your own ass.

Last thing I should mention in case you decide to use it as defense for your ignorance... I reside in the United States, so know a lot about this country. A lot more, in fact, than most Americans.

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