The Cold War: NHL v. KHL

theondeckcircle dotnetSenior Analyst IJuly 18, 2008

The establishment of the new Russian Continental Hockey League is already proving to be a significant threat to the NHL game.

Earlier this summer, KHL founder Alexander Medvedev proved to everyone he means business by trying to draw Evgeni Malkin out of the last year of his NHL contract with the Penguins. The NHL and the KHL have now drawn up an agreement to ensure all contracts are respected, but it is clear that the new league intends to compete with the NHL for players.

How far will it go? Well, we can only speculate.

Many Russian, Swedish, Czech and other European superstars move their lives and families over to the North America in order to play with and against the best competition in the world. It has always been taken for granted that the best hockey players in the world and the biggest money contracts are in the National Hockey League.

As a result, most of the top young European talents of the last decade have made the sacrifice in order to play with the best players and make the big bucks.

But what if they could do all of it at home?

If we think of the incredible and ever-increasing number of skilled European players (forwards, defensemen, and goalies) playing in the NHL, it becomes easy to imagine an extremely competitive league comprised of these players located overseas. European hockey leagues have always existed and have always been competitive, but the best players aren’t there.

The new Russian League has the potential to change the entire dynamic of hockey worldwide, and it will likely be the start of a huge shift in the balance of power on a worldwide stage the European way.

Although several current European players (most notably Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Radulov, and Sergei Brylin) accepted large money offers to play next year overseas, it remains unlikely that the young and established next-generation NHL superstars will move back home.

However, the NHL does have to be very concerned about the future.

In recent years, there has been enormous incentive for young European players to make the move to North America. Competition, money, sponsors, fame, the list goes on. But as the size, reputation, and power of the Russian league become more attractive to the hometown boys, the benefits of going overseas will all of a sudden not be worth the sacrifice.

And so they’ll stay.

The next generation of great European players is going to have a huge incentive to stay home. And why not? There is no reason that this league cannot, over time, become as or more competitive than the NHL. The players will be there, the fans will be there, and the money will be there.

A majority of American NHL teams are no longer (or never were) financially viable. Despite an improved on-ice product, seats are still empty, ratings are low, and teams are now struggling to meet the minimum end of the cap! The league is vulnerable and the time seems to be right for somewhat of a fresh start for hockey.

The game seems to be transitioning to more of a skillful European style of play and the European players are the most electrifying and fun to watch anyway so why should they keep coming to us? Why don’t they just move the show back home?

Soon enough they will.

And before we know it, we might be back to the Original Six.


Straight from The On Deck by Ian Cass.