Until Player Safety Becomes a Concern, The KHL Will Wallow in Anonymity

Aaron TomContributor INovember 11, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - JUNE 22:  17th overall pick Alexei Cherepanov of the New York Rangers poses for a portrait during the first round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft at Nationwide Arena on June 22, 2007 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

The Kontinental Hockey League, or KHL for short, is the Russian equivalent, and attempted rival, to the National Hockey League.  Formed in 2008, and made up almost entirely of teams from the Russian Superleague, the KHL is enjoying some modest success in its native land, attracting a pretty solid television deal, partly thanks to its tactic of luring away current NHL players (and accepting those, a la Chris Simon, who fell from grace in an NHL uniform).

All of this sounds like a recipe for success, save for the fact that the league, which pay large contracts comparable to or exceeding what many of these players would make in the NHL, have chosen to skimp in the one area where any sports league cannot afford to:  player safety.

The KHL is simply under equipped to deal with serious injuries; for a league looking to gain worldwide attention, this is simply inexcusable.

The most "notable" occurrence came last season, in 2008, when NHL prospect Alexei Cherepanov, a forward for Avangard Omsk, collapsed on the bench during a contest against Vityaz Chekhov.  What ensued would qualify as a comedy of errors were it not so tragic:  The ambulance, which was reportedly normally at all games, left early, and had to be called back to the scene; a defibrillator that team doctors used in an attempt to resuscitate the player was drained of battery power, and proved completely useless.  By the time doctors finally did arrive, a full 12 minutes had passed.  By the time he arrived at the hospital, it was a full twenty.

Once in the care of a medical staff, he was briefly resuscitated twice before ultimately passing; he was only nineteen years old.

Following this disaster, the KHL vowed to improve each team's medical staff, including providing them with additional training in an attempt to avert another disaster such as this one. 

It has not taken long for another display of medical negligence to rear its ugly head, though arguably this could be considered "less tragic" simply for the reason that the player involved did not die.

On September 22nd, 2009, Martin Kariya, younger brother of St. Louis Blues forward Paul Kariya, and a forward himself for Dinamo Riga in the KHL, was checked from behind during a game, and through a mix of unfortunate circumstances and some bad luck (his legs came out from under him, vaulting him into the air), the 27-year-old landed vertically on his head.  While team trainers arrived to the scene within thirty seconds of the incident, they were not properly equipped to handle the situation (with a stretcher), instead being forced to use a flimsy board that did nothing to protect his head (at one point, the six players that were carrying him even had to lift him up and over the boards, jerking his neck around even more).

Kariya, who thankfully "only" suffered a concussion (as opposed to a broken neck, which clearly would have killed him), is out indefinitely, with concussion-like symptoms that refuse to go away.  Hmm...could the handling of the situation at the hand's of the team's medical staff have anything to do with it?

The fact that the KHL is attempting to become the next great hockey league, and even luring current NHL players away from North America, becomes such a depressingly laughable situation when it can't even protect the players that it currently has.  The fact that league expansion and player salaries come well ahead of player safety is a greedy, despicable act, one that will ultimately stop them from achieving their goals if not addressed immediately.

Of course now the league is once again saying it will review the methods in which injured players are taken off the ice, but isn't this a process that should have been well in place before it ever happened?  After all, they could have foreseen the number of injuries they could expect just from watching a few NHL games on any given week.

How many more players have to suffer serious injuries, or even die, before the KHL stops treating player safety as merely a joke, and actually takes steps to deter such on-ice incidents from happening?