The National Hockey League hasn't had a real threat to rival their supremacy as the top hockey league in the world since the World Hockey Association folded in 1979. Suddenly, though, there is a league that is garnering steam and looking as though they might be the next team that could challenge the NHL as the top notch hockey league and that is the Kontinental Hockey League.
The first time the NHL was ever challenged was by the World Hockey Association which was formed in 1972. They looked to capitalize on the markets where there weren't already teams playing in the NHL and at the beginning of the formation of the league they did very well at this.
They were able to attract many NHL players, including Bobby Hull by offering them higher paying contracts than the NHL. While they enjoyed minor success eventually the league was forced to fold in 1979 after too many teams could not support themselves financially.
The one positive that came out of the WHA was the NHL realized they had to start scouting overseas in Europe and elsewhere. At the time the NHL recruited mostly in Canada and ignored overseas players for the most part but after seeing the success the WHA had with European players they decided to start taking a look at them.
Now a new league has been formed in Russia. The Kontinental Hockey League was formed in 2008 and finished their very first season at the end of February 2009.
There are currently 24 teams playing in the KHL, with 21 of them being from Russia, one from Belarus, one from Kazakhstan, and one from Latvia. The KHL plays just 56 games, a considerably smaller schedule than the NHL which plays an 82 game regular season schedule.
The KHL is entering just its second season but already has been able to get some former NHL players to switch sides and play for them. Some of the biggest names are Ray Emery, Jaromir Jagr, Jozef Stumpel, and Chris Simon.
The one thing that is hurting the KHL from advancing itself is the fact that a rule is in place where a team can sign no more than five foreign players and can have no more than four foreign players playing in one game.
Still the KHL's first year was a successful one. Some teams struggled with money issues but the league has a plan in place to help them teams out. If the KHL can continue to flourish than the NHL should be ready for a loss of some of the big time stars.
Currently the NHL, KHL, and IIHF are trying to work out an agreement where the KHL will not try to steal away NHL players who are under contract especially since the signing of Alexander Radulov by Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL.
The KHL has already shown they are willing to go after the big money guys by offering them big time contracts and there are many players who like to go home and play for their home team.
The NHL had better work out an agreement with the KHL because if they are able to stay afloat for the next few years or so many more NHL players could be influenced by the opportunity to play for more money and closer to home.