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The KHL “threat”? C’mon….10 reasons why the KHL is being over-hyped

Some NHL’ers, like our always-entertaining friend Ilya Bryzgalov of the Flyers, are claiming (if I understood some recent comments correctly) that a lot of players will stay in Russia and play in the KHL once the NHL lockout ends.  I don’t know if that is being said as an unveiled threat or what, exactly, but I’m one fan (and I acknowledge I may be alone in this) who could not possibly care less if NHL’ers don’t want to come back to the league that made them famous after the lockout ends—if it ever ends.

Why do I say this?

Well, as much as I loathe the owners and their all-over-the map, chase-the-bouncing-ball method of negotiating (and general un-trustworhiness), I find the players’ constant chirping openly at Bettman (as if he’s doing anything other than telling it like the owners want it told) just a little irritating—and immature.

As I said here a while back, if players want to complain publicly, have the balls to do it to their own owner—that’s who their beef is with.  And most people who make millions a year ought to be very careful complaining about their lot in life-  especially to the person who signs their cheques.

I commented here a week or more ago about Leaf forward Joffrey Lupul’s comments in an article he “wrote” about the lockout.  It all tried to sound so super-fan friendly, but who’s kidding who?  The players are acting like their best toy (among dozens) has been taken away.  Half of them are running off to play somewhere else instead of, as Bobby Ryan of the Ducks suggested last week, staying home to fight the good fight for the NHLPA.  (So much for union solidarity and unity, eh?)  Like we should believe the players—who get everything for free—care about us, the fans who pay through the nose so the players can make millions and get all those free perks, too.  C’mon.

But set that aside for the moment.  This idea that the KHL may usurp the NHL someday is, for me at least, not to be believed.  I just can’t see it.  Not even temporarily, when there is no NHL hockey.  The players would like to peddle that notion, but, ah…it won’t ever happen.

I say this for a host of reasons, but  let’s briefly cover off a few:

  1. The “excitement” will wear off in no time.  Forget that because of the time difference the games are played at "off" times for North American fans.  The KHL is simply no substitute for old-time NHL hockey. It just isn't.
  2. What’s the name of the KHL championship Trophy?  Whatever it is, I’m sure it means something to fans in Russia, and that’s great.  But it’s not the Stanley Cup.  Hockey fans everywhere know what the Stanley Cup means.  Maybe if, in 50 years, the best players in the world all continue to play in the KHL, it will matter.  But I will be long gone by then…
  3. There is no way most NHL players—given the choice—would ever choose to play in Russia.  The facilities that players have available to them in the NHL are amazing, full stop.  These guys are spoiled.  They would never, given an option, choose a league in Europe, and certainly not the KHL, as good as the hockey might be.
  4. The counselling and support systems available to NHL players are so much better than anything offered anywhere else in the hockey-playing world.
  5. The rivalries in the NHL are un-matched.  How can we compare anything in the KHL with the Habs and Leafs, as just one example?
  6. Do we really believe players would get anywhere (and I mean anywhere) near the same kick they do out of playing in front of the great hockey fans that have been following the NHL for years in most (not all, I recognize) NHL markets?  Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Minnesota.  Those are all outstanding hockey towns, with knowledgeable fan bases.  I’m sure fans in the various KHL markets know their stuff.  But the history of our sport in the markets I mentioned above in undeniable.
  7. Think of all those Canadian kids who dream of playing on Hockey Night in Canada against (or even better, for) the Maple Leafs.  In the old days it was the thrill of playing at Maple Leaf Gardens.  Now, it's the Air Canada Centre.  Or playing at the Forum (now Bell Centre) in Montreal.  Do we really believe those players are just as excited at the prospect of playing in Vladivostok or wherever?
  8. In a fit of pique, or in desperation to earn even more (while still getting their lockout pay) money, North American players will go to Europe, sure.  But the players who have spoken honestly about the experience over the years admit playing over there is a far cry from the first-class treatment they get in every way imaginable on the NHL.  The KHL is a last resort for most.
  9. If the NHL was on a furlough for any length of time, how much would these KHL owners be willing to pay North American players if they no longer had to "compete" for those players with wealthy and big-spending NHL owners?
  10. What hockey player (not born in Russia) dreams all their life of playing professionally a gazillion miles from friends and family in the KHL, and wants to spend an entire career playing in Russia?

So sure, a bunch of North American guys, including “stars”, are playing in the KHL and in various ports across Europe during the lockout.  And if you enjoy following the hockey in Europe, I get it.  Hockey fans are all different.  We all love hockey for our own reasons.  But I do not believe, not for a second, that this is something the players would choose to do under any other circumstance. (And I'm still not happy with them taking away the jobs of players over in Europe who really need the work...)

As for me, as a hockey “fan”, I won’t be paying any attention to the KHL (or to European hockey) just because NHL'ers are playing there.  I don’t say that with any disrespect.  I know that many European teams have great followings.  But I just don’t care.  So what if Cody Franson or some other Maple  Leaf goes over there and plays well?  What does it matter to the Leafs?  I care about the NHL—and the Maple Leafs.  It’s been that way for me for more than 50 years now.  I care about the Leafs as a franchise and those who wear the crest proudly.  For all the flaws of the organization past and present, I respect that Leaf logo, but much more importantly I love the history of this great franchise and its heritage, and the legacy that earlier generations of players have left behind.  For me, what matters is that combination of the legacy of the Leafs combined with the history that the National Hockey League represents.  Unless those two elements are together, it just doesn't matter to me. (I'm not talking about junior hockey, which I followed closely and loved for many years when I was younger...)

As I posted here weeks ago, I would not pay attention for one second if NHL players ever tried to start a league of their own.  (They won’t, believe me.  They’d have to pay out salaries, take risks and not just take in the cash  for themselves.  I doubt they'd like paying middle of the road teammates 3 million a year…)  My interest lies with the Leafs and them playing in the best league in the world, which has been and always will be the NHL.

Just like the Leafs, for all its many flaws and the greed and stupidity of so many of its owners, the NHL has history behind it, and the one trophy that matters—the Stanley Cup.

That all said, I'm guessing I'm in a minority on this one.


  1. You have covered off the points to be considered and I'm joining your "minority" position - it's the heritage and history that come with the sweater, the players who play elsewhere are of little interest to me outside of the context I love. That's why I'm only interested in the Marlies right now (and only because they are potential Leafs, within OUR system).

    On a note unrelated to all of your fine points, I would suggest that there is something 'brewing' in the background that may give home bred KHL'ers another reason to consider staying over there (to play near their homes) and that is Russian nationalism within an economic context not well known in the west. There are recent rumblings that Putin is moving toward making the Ruble a world reserve currency... if that were to happen, then the pie just got split and, all things being equal, a lot of those players might just decide to stay home and grow their own league, which is fine with me. Perhaps we'll see them at some international tournament, but they won't matter to me like the Leafs do!

  2. Sounds like we are on a similar page on this one, InTimeFor62.

    I also agree that the climate in Russia, for some of the reasons you mentioned, may well be a trigger for homegrown players to stay and play in Russia. And if that is their preference, that would be totally understandable, of course.

    In some ways I miss the "old days" when there was some "mystery" when we played the Finns, Swedes, Russians, etc. in international competition!

  3. After recently reading Jonathon Gatehouse's 'The Instigator', Bettman is anything but a mouthpiece for the owners. He is in fact the driving force on the direction of the league. Yes, he is employed by the owners, but he is not Campbell or Zeigler - Bettman is the point man, and he does not report to the owners.

    He does believe whet he is doing is right for hockey, but we must dispense with the notion that Bettman is a figurehead or simply the 'face'. He sets the agenda, he keeps the owners in check. That he requires 23 votes (75% of governors) to remove him from office shows that he's not jsut some guy the owners keep around at their pleasure.

  4. As for the KHL, personally, i see the NHL owners now as a cartel, one that has created some protectionist bubble for themselves.

    I would prefer hockey to be like soccer. There are many leagues worldwide, and the best players play where they get their best deal. Let these owners, many of whom frankly I see as spoiled brats who generally had daddy leave them their fortunes, like Rocky Wirtz, or as criminals (and the NHL has a long history of past and potential owners who've seen jail time), let them compete with other leagues for the services of these players.

    Sorry, but while I do love the Leafs and the history, nowadays I know this league is only about money. It's a business, pure and simple, and right now, I mostly see a group of owners who see their revenues grow, but have decided it's just not enough money for them, so they need to squeeze more out of their employees and fans.

  5. I think that's a fair point, Mark. I've said two things consistently in this space before: that Bettman is the senior advisor for the owners, yes, but also that he is doing what they want.

    Now, he may be pushing them to see the world a certain way, but at the end of the day, I would simply argue that it is their money- and their league. He will advise them, push them, but ultimately all the owners, together with Bettman, come to as close to a common ground as they can given there are 30 different personalities, markets, local realities and different levels of financial clout.

    So when I refer to him as a mouthpiece, I do so well in the knowledge that he is much more than that. But I do still believe that the owners are not simply being led by the nose.

    Thanks Mark.

  6. On the KHL and NHL owners issue, while we perhaps see things differently, I can see why you feel the way you do. I recognize the "Leafs" I loved doesn't exist the way "it" used to.

    For me, soccer is great, but so many leagues! I like that the NHL is clearly the best, and always has been- greedy owners aside.

    Good post, thanks Mark.

  7. Led by the nose, no. But Bettman has power, power enough to punish owners who step out of line.

    No doubt, the owners do believe in Bettman. They are on the same page as he is. But he is more than even an advisor. He is running the league.

    And it's 'the owners' league' in only a sense. There are 30 egos here. And all 30 are not going to agree. Bettman is the one driving it though. Sunbelt expansion is him... rules changes, him... I get the sense he's actually the biggest ego in the room.

    I recommend picking up the book, I think you'll see that really, Bettman is more in charge of this league than you think.

  8. Michael
    Count me in on joining your minority position.

    While reading your comments I came up with some related questions that you or your followers may be able to answer.

    1. What constitutes the breaking of a player contract?
    a) When the owners declare a lockout? Does this then allow players to play in KHL, etc?
    b) When players go to play in another league?

    2. When everyone goes back to work, does the team have to accept the player back? Harold Ballard didn't want a Russian player playing in Maple Leaf Gardens, let alone for the Leafs. He would jump at the opportunity to get rid of bad contracts with this excuse.

    3. If a player gets injured in KHL, is NHL team obligated to his salary, on-going contract?

    Keep up the good work. Your blog is my primary source for keeping up with the NHL.

  9. Those are good questions, RLMcC. I don't know the answers, but I have certainly wondered, for example, what happens if (as occurred recently) Rick Nash gets hurt playing in Europe. Do the Rangers have to keep paying him if he can't play for, say, the next two years?

    Maybe someone has those answers!

    Thanks for the kind words also, RLMcC. I may not post as much as the lockout continues, but I'll aim to continue.

  10. You simply are a person who doesn't see the big picture and over time has become as insular as Don Cherry's fireplace.