September 03, 2008
As we mentioned yesterday, the Kontinental Hockey League made its long-awaited regular season debut yesterday despite the blockbuster announcement that the Nashville Predators have suspended Alexander Radulov indefinitely. Reports out of Russia claim that upon hearing the news, Radulov stopped counting his money for approximately 13 seconds to giggle uncontrollably before bathing himself in quality vodka.
Here's one aspect of the KHL that's been completely lost amid all the Cold War posturing and player espionage and Ray Emery career rehabilitation: New hockey league equals more hockey fights. Drop Your Gloves has dedicated a page to following KHL pugilism, as has HockeyFights.com. (Bookmark alert!) This is very, very good news for those of us who love our old-time hockey. Even if we need subtitles to enjoy it.
On the first day of regular season action, we had at least two brawls in the KHL that made their way to YouTube. And to the surprise of exactly no one, former New York Islanders goon Chris Simon was involved in one of them for his new team Vityaz Chekhov, battling Mikhail Fedoseyev:
Congratulations are in order for Simon, who appears to have been involved in an act of aggression that didn't see him treat another player's head like a piñata or attempt to slice someone's leg with this skate. Kudos, sir. Rehabilitation complete.
Verot v. Russian dude:
Here's Russia Today's English-language news segment on the KHL's first day of action:
Now, this is where things get interesting for the NHL. The League has the most Web-savvy fans in professional sports. If there is English-language news and video available throughout the KHL season on YouTube or other sites, hockey fans are going to find it and absorb it.
Does this mean the NHL should be afraid of losing market share to an upstart Russian League. Of course not, and no more than the NBA is worried around losing fans to Josh Childress's Greek League. Especially when, as you see in the highlights, the KHL might be better off playing with empty nets instead of Russian goaltenders.
But ultimately, could North American fan access ever generate enough interest in the KHL to get a package of games on American television? Steven Ovadia wonders the same thing, although the notion that the NHL Network might eventually show games from a competing league is a puckhead pipe dream. For the same reason that the World Championships weren't shown during the Stanley Cup playoffs -- why risk giving fans a basis for comparison?
Again, the NHL is no danger. But now you have the KHL. Soon you may have a Scandinavian KHL-style league, if Hakan Loob is correct. The hockey world is expanding faster than it ever has, and the NHL needs to be ahead of this trend.