Anyone not really familiar with hockey is likely saying, “The what?” The Kontinental Hockey League is an international professional ice hockey league that evolved from the Russian Superleague in 2008.
The league is considered the top European hockey league and KHL CEO Vyasheslav Fetisov has been quoted on russiatoday.com as saying the league will equal the National Hockey League in the next five years.
That is a pretty bold statement, but it is also akin to comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. Any decent European team could play well with NHL teams when international ice hockey rules are in effect. The scary thing for North American hockey fans is that the NHL has seemingly envisioned the potential for international expansion and changed its rules and style of play considerably to become closer to a European game. This is very much to the detriment of the sport, but those points are for another day and another article.
The KHL has teams in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latvia currently and has now indicated an interest in expanding into Sweden.
The players are largely Russian thanks to a league rule that prevents Russian teams (Russian teams currently form 21 of the 24 teams in the league) from signing any more than five foreign players. The vast majority of these players did not make the NHL or are in the twilight of their careers.
A good indication of the current quality can be shown by the fact that the fifth highest scorer in the league for the 2008-2009 season was Canadian defenseman Kevin Dallman. There’s a “who” to accompany the earlier “what.” Dallman managed a grand total of 154 NHL games with the Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings accumulating 31 points before producing 58 points in 53 games with Barys Astana in the KHL.
The teams compete for the Gagarin Cup. The trophy is named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space. The team that won the Gagarin Cup in 2008-2009 was Ak Bars Kazan, which translates to the Kazan Snow Leopards.
The Kontinental Hockey League undeniably has huge plans regarding its future in the global marketplace of professional hockey and there is an equally huge potential for global rewards if the NHL, the current driving force in professional hockey, continues to change the way the North American style of play.