Russian Continental League Posing a Threat to the NHL?

Chris BouthillierSenior Analyst IJune 30, 2008

The new Russian Continental League has already taken a dip into the NHL's free agency pool, and did they ever make a splash. AK Kazan made the first signing of an NHL free agent one that we won't soon forget.

Wade Dubielewicz, the goalie who saved the New York Islanders' season in 2006-07, has left the NHL to play in Russia.

Okay, I know, it's not a big loss. But what does this mean for the NHL?

I'll tell you what it means—absolutely nothing.

The new Russian league has guaranteed players more money to play in fewer games. In North America that's unheard of. But in Russia, with the generosity of team management and corporate sponsors, money is not an issue.

We have already heard NHL players expressing interest in shortening the schedule and holding higher salaries. However, the Board of Governors shot that down immediately. There's no way those guys are going to make more money in 70 games season.

This new league might take away from cultural diversity in the NHL. Young Europeans who fear leaving their countries for North America can instead take the hometown pay check and make more money than they would make on an entry-level contract. Along with the lack of a transfer agreement from the IIHF, it will be an even bigger gamble to draft European players.

Who's to say that Jaromir Jagr won't settle on the $35 million offer he received recently? What if Mats Sundin wanted to play closer to home? The new league offers those luxuries to players (especially Europeans) undecided about their futures.

Now after seeing all the pros to this new league, here's why the ship will sink before it sets sail.

The Russian league has what appears to be an unlimited amount of cash. That money is coming from corporate franchises who are funding the league and its teams. Once revenue comes up short after a few seasons, these owners will see that they are losing more and more money every year.

I won't be the least bit surprised if this league files for bankruptcy and takes pay cuts for its remaining players.

Let's pretend that doesn't happen. Does anybody own a globe anymore? Russia is closer to the North Pole than any of the Canadian NHL franchises.

People think Edmonton is cold. Wait 'til you get to Russia. I'm guessing that their big pay checks are supposed to cover the cost of fur coats and three fireplaces to make sure their players don't freeze to death.

Finally, it comes down to the actual product: hockey.

I'm positive that the Russian league will attract a few popular NHLers in an effort to draw crowds, but they won't be able to take half our league's talent. They won't get Sidney Crosby. They won't get Jarome Iginla. And even though he's Russian, they won't get Alex Ovechkin, either.

The NHL is based on pride. Players play in this league to be part of the best league in the world. They play for the chance to lift the Stanley Cup, the most beautiful trophy in all of sports.

If players leave for Russia, that is a sign that they want to take the easy way out. Sure they can make more money and have a longer offseason, but it's easy to identify those who just aren't cut out to play in the best league in the world.

Don't fret if you see a few players make the jump to the league. After playing there for about two seasons, they will be begging for NHL teams to take them back. The brand of hockey there is nowhere close to the intensity that the NHL carries.

True hockey players will play in the NHL.