The state of the KHL in 2021

The KHL is a top professional hockey league in Russia. The league was formed in 2008, and its current league came into existence in 2012. There are currently 10 teams in the KHL. The league will continue to grow in size until 2021, when there should be 12 teams in the league.

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The KHL has recently changed, and for the better. The league is finally on the path to make it the best league in the world. Even though some teams are not doing so well, 2017 has been a huge success for the league.

Knight didn’t like where he was in his hockey career. It’s 2019 and Knight, then 28, has just spent the season shuttling between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL and the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL.

Knight says the constant challenges the team faces are certainly exhausting. And when I played in the NHL, I was more of a role player. So they don’t play as many minutes. It’s a role that can be difficult. I also had a few injuries, and I didn’t feel very healthy, both physically and mentally.

He concluded: I needed a fresh start.

And then Knight got the chance to sign with the Continental Hockey League for the 2019-20 season. It was something he craved. But isn’t that too extreme a change?

I grew up in a small town in southern Alberta, so there wasn’t much culture to grow up with, Knight says. For me, it was a real leap of faith to go to a country on the other side of the world where I didn’t know the language. But it was also a great opportunity for me to play hockey again, something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.

Vityaz has contracted Barys Nur-Sultan from Kazakhstan for a year.

It was definitely a bit grueling, he said. Do the blind jump.

Dispelling myths

The CHL just finished its 13th season. The season is over. Although the Russian league is the second largest hockey league in the world after the NHL, there is still a certain myth and stigma attached to it, especially for North Americans.

I mean, before I got into the league, I heard stories about getting paid cash for practice and having to run home because they tried to take it back. But those things are long gone, former NHL forward Nigel Dawes told ESPN last year. They’ve done a good job, even in the nine years I’ve been here, of improving new things every year, whether it’s the All-Star Game, payroll, salaries, travel, hotels, sponsorships, TV deals.

The CHL is being built on and on, even though it is not yet perfect. I would say 90% of the league, the people in the league, the product on the ice is great, said a North American-born CHL player. And then there’s the 10% where he shines: Why on earth do you have to? But how many works are 100% perfect? Is the NHL 100% perfect?

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The league played a full season under pandemic conditions – from 2. September 2020 until the Gagarin Cup presentation in April – without interruption, visiting six different countries, each with different COVID-19 protocols and restrictions. The CHL welcomes the youth movement and has taken advantage of the pandemic to introduce it.

We’ve told teams that if there are a lot of positive tests, they should bring in younger players, KHL commissioner Alexei Morozov, a former Pittsburgh Penguins forward, said through an interpreter. And we had more young players this year – 126 compared to 90 the year before.

However, the main attraction was – and remains – the stars of the Russian national team.

Ilya Kovalchuk joined us this year, said Knight, who continued his KHL career at Omsk Avangard. And this man is a real living legend in Russia. When we went to Moscow, we saw his face on a billboard of a bank, and everywhere we went, people were crazy about him.

Russian stars like Alexei Emelin and Ilya Kovalchuk continue to draw the most fans in the KHL. Evgeniy SofiychukTASS via Getty Images

The KHL is much less dependent on revenue than the NHL. So it’s quite plausible for Morozov to say that COVID hasn’t had much impact on the league’s finances. The one exception was Admiral Vladivostok, who withdrew from the season due to financial difficulties during the pandemic, but plans to return next season.

All our sponsors have stayed with us and have shown understanding for the current situation, Morozov said. Sales are almost at the same level as before.

The ULC is often considered the oil-rich cousin of the NHL, often funded by corporations, including state-owned enterprises. The boundaries between sport, government and business are not clear, and this can lead to situations like the collapse of the ruble in 2014. This has destabilised the league and many players have reported arrears or unpaid wages.

However, several brokers interviewed for this article said they could not cite any recent examples of players who had not received their salaries.

It’s definitely cleaned up, said an agent representing several CHL players. Is there corruption in the league now, quid pro quo and all that? It’s definitely still available. But my experience is that players have had generally positive experiences in recent years and salary has not been an issue.

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However, in August 2020, three coaches filed a lawsuit against Kunlun Red Star, demanding more than $1 million in damages after the season was interrupted due to a pandemic and the team was temporarily relocated from China to Russia. (The coaches have reached an amicable agreement).

And, of course, there are the horror stories that have become urban legends in North America: wild and dangerous treks, mysterious substances in the drops, a team performing a strange ritual on the ice before training.

I’ve obviously heard a lot about these Spittin’ Chiclets podcasts and the stories they tell, said Canadian-born Craig Woodcroft, head coach of HC Dynamo Minsk. I don’t want to take anything away from them, because these are stories that probably happened, but I think they are a minority rather than a majority. I don’t think it really reflects the nature of the league or what teams offer players.

Woodcroft continued: Are there any special situations in the CHL? One hundred percent. Do you have to be open-minded to come here? Maybe more patience as a person, as a player, as a coach? Of course you should. Because it’s a different culture, they do things differently. We have to respect that, we are in their country. They do things a little differently than we do. Of course, sometimes we get angry and say: That’s not what I think.

On the other hand, stepping back and looking at the big picture is a great way to understand other cultures.

Product differences on ice

The CHL has so far used three different sizes of rinks – International, North American and Finnish – but the process of optimizing to two options is underway, which will save teams the headache of having to constantly adjust.

What about the product on the ice? Knight didn’t know what to expect when he signed in 2019.

I think the stereotypical image of Russian players is one of skill, flashiness, glitz and glamour, Knight said. I couldn’t believe how structured and largely defensive the game was when I first got there.

There are a few oddities. The games can drag on because the referees are picky about first line fouls – often forcing midfielders into multiple saves – and quick to blow the whistle when too many players are suspended. On the other hand, referees don’t whistle much for tackles, which can upset some coaches and players.

Corban Knight was one of 48 Canadian players allowed to play in the KHL for the 2020-21 season. Alexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images

For Woodcroft, the most unique aspect of the CHL is its global perspective. In 2021, players represented 18 countries, including 48 Canadians and 17 Americans, although Russian KHL teams are limited to five import players per game.

What struck me the most in my first year in the league were the different styles of play, their structure and the fact that they were very different from what I was used to thinking and playing in North America, Woodcroft said. Many teams and coaches are familiar with international hockey. They look at the NHL and that style of play. You look at successful countries like Sweden, what is their approach to the game? Is this a patient team that has the puck? The Finns are very linear in the way they play and think about the game.

At CHL you see a mix of many of these philosophies. It’s very difficult for the coaches, very difficult for the players, but when you go through that process, you create those perfect, sharp, better prepared, better balanced players.

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Traditionally, there are inequalities between the rich and the poor in the league. The CHL has introduced a hard salary cap and minimum wage for the first time for the 2020-21 season to promote competitive balance. While the details – a maximum of 900 million rubles (about $12 million) and a minimum of 270 million rubles (about $3.5 million) – are hardly comparable to the NHL’s finances, the maximum is lower than what some wealthier KHL clubs are willing to spend and the minimum is higher than what clubs with low budgets have spent. Morozov said the goal is for the floor to be 50% of the ceiling in three years.

The CHL also supports a professional women’s league that offers players a decent salary and runs a junior league. The KHL also introduced puck and player tracking nearly two years before the NHL, using chips embedded in players’ pucks and jerseys to provide real-time data to nearly everyone.

They show it a lot during games, even in arenas, on big screens, Woodcroft said. Players often look up to see who is leading the fastest skaters, who had the hardest shot today. It’s a new era, right? The information is immediately what the players grew up with, and that’s what they want to see.

Looking to the future

When the CHL was founded in 2008, its mission was to develop the sport of ice hockey in Russia and other European and Asian countries. The league already has a presence in Belarus, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and China – although the status of Kunlun Red Star is currently complicated after it was temporarily moved to the suburbs for the duration of the pandemic.

According to Morozov, the club has expressed its desire to continue playing in the Moscow region. At the same time, we are thinking about the possibility of playing some home games in China. There are also problems with the ice rinks here, as some are being built for the [2022] Olympics, and others that meet our technical requirements are training Chinese athletes. Therefore, it was decided that the Chinese team would start in the Moscow region.

Nevertheless, questions remain about the continued expansion. Morozov said the league is working on this and is already in contact with several potential clubs. Nothing has been decided yet for next season and all potential clubs must have the necessary infrastructure and financial guarantees for at least three years. Meanwhile, the CHL plans to play two practice matches in different countries next season.

Then Morozov had a bigger goal: a move to the NHL. A former Penguins player, Morozov already has some connections in the league, and he said he has attended world hockey forums with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and assistant commissioner Bill Daley. The NHL and CHL currently have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) about honoring each other’s contracts.

If all restrictions are lifted, I’m sure we can go to America, because we have business to discuss, Morozov said. Recently, some clubs have stated at board meetings that they would like to host games with NHL teams. The NHL has its practice games in Europe, and of course we’re going to talk about that to address that issue, because we’re only working on one thing, and that’s promoting our sport, hockey, around the world. It would be interesting and could be a great deal, but we will have to sit down with our American colleagues.

This is something Knight will welcome. He recently completed his second season in the KHL, winning the championship with Avangard in April. After two years in the league, he has a whole new appreciation for the situation.

With a lot of these guys, you definitely have to try to get off to a good start, because the Russians are all very close-knit, it’s a very close-knit culture, Knight said. When a Canadian or an American arrives, they have certain stereotypes. You have to earn their respect and trust. But once you do, everything will be perfect. There’s a mutual respect, and it’s fun. It was great to meet the guys and see that our careers – and our childhoods – are different in many ways. But there are also many similarities.Over the next couple of years, the ongoing NHL lockout will be an interesting case study of how a professional sports league adapts to weathering a prolonged labor dispute. While the NHL’s television contract with the NBC sports network and a few other international deals will keep the league going, it will still have to make tough choices about how to spend its remaining resources. It will be interesting to see what happens in Russia, where they get their hockey fix year-round, and how the KHL will adapt to the situation.. Read more about khl season schedule 2020-21 and let us know what you think.

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