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.