For longtime fans of the NHL, it was nothing new.
An organization set to come in, guns blazing, and attempt to be “competition” for the National Hockey League. Â On the surface, perhaps not a bad idea. Â After all, competition creates creativity. Â Competition brings out the absolute best in everyone.
However, there have been two big attempts by rogue organizations to dethrone the NHL from atop their perch as the number one hockey league.
And just like the WHA years earlier, is it possible that the KHL is going the way of the dodo bird?
For some, it may be a reach to say the KHL even posed nearly as much of a threat that the WHA did. Â Perhaps that notion is due in large to the fact that the Kontinental Hockey League is a league completely played on a different continent, which no doubt led to some players who weren’t happy with their roles in the NHL from jumping ship.
Going to a rival organization in any line of work is a big move personally and professionally. Â When that move requires a complete change in lifestyle in the form of moving across the world, it becomes that much more daunting.
The KHL, for its part, came out making very boisterous claims from the word go.
A league made up mostly of teams owned by Russian oil magnates, the KHL did a good job of establishing themselves as a prestigious league in Europe, and even managed to garner attention by signing NHL players, luring them across the pond with guaranteed money, the likes of which they would never see in North America.
Most players who began defecting to Europe where role players in the NHL, players who could be replaced. Â They made big waves however, with signings of Jaromir Jagr, Alexander Radulov, and Jiri Hudler.
Since the inception of the league, however, there has been a dark cloud hovering above, mostly related to their finances.
While most team owners are well off, there are constantly reports that KHL teams are losing money, and there have been more than a handful of players who have been embattled in bitter disputes with team owners over promised money that they haven’t seen.
Earlier this year, Lada Togliatti folded up shop and went home, deciding it could no longer afford to continue operation in the league. Â News last week that Moscow Dynamo will be the second team this season to cease operations sent shock waves throughout hockey, on both sides of the pond.
Moscow Dynamo, a highly decorated franchise, on the same level in Europe as the Maple Leafs would be here in North America, was going to close down operations. Â There were talks of a potential merger between Dynamo and another Russian club. Â As of this writing, there is no news on that.
With teams folding, and players squabbling with owners over owed money throughout the league, one can’t help but wonder if the KHL is falling apart at the seams?
With the folding of Moscow Dynamo, Linus Omark was allowed out of his contract, and signed with the Edmonton Oilers. Â Former Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler was also released, and while management was disappointed when Hudler left, both sides left the door open for a possible return to Detroit, which now seems very likely for Hudler at some point this summer.
News began to filter out today that Anton Babchuk, a Russian born defenseman, has began re-negotiating with the Carolina Hurricanes after spending last season in the KHL. Â Blue Jackets top prospect Nikita Filatov has also hinted strongly at a return to North America this summer.
Dmitry Chesnokov, who is a Russian-born hockey writer who works for PuckDaddy, told TSN in an article published two days ago that a large chunk of the blame for the fall from grace for one of Russia’s most celebrated teams should rest on the shoulders of the league itself.
“The KHL is different from the NHL in that the league does not represent individual clubs, the league doesn’t really have an interest in keeping certain clubs in the league. Â If a club goes under, so be it. Â That’s the philosophy.”
Sentiments like that, echoed from a writer who first and foremost considers himself a lifelong fan of Russian hockey, doesn’t exactly give the KHL a ringing endorsement going forward into the future.
They may well be talking with the National Hockey League in hopes of closing a deal that will see NHL teams battle KHL teams in pre-season hockey games in Europe, but are the intentions pure for the KHL, or is this just another grab at the brass ring for the ailing league?