Sweet, Beautiful Competition

This is Alexander Maltsev. He was the guy who dished to Valeri Kharlamov (twice) in the first game of the 1972 series to send us all to the cupboard for Tums, Pepto, Rum, beer or possibly to the garage to take the gaspipe.

We never got to see Maltsev, Kharlamov or Mikhailov play in the NHL or WHA. Tretiak’s SP numbers (the ones we know about) look all world (.911 at the ’72 Olympics, .933 at the ’76 Olympics and .920 at the ’74 WHC’s) but we never saw him play over an entire season.

Those are just some of the names, there are plenty more. We’ve been lucky over the last 30 years or so (since the WHA folded into the NHL and the Russians, Swedes, Czechs and Finns began to find their way over. Some of their travels, like the Stastny’s, Frank Musil and Petr Nedved are among the most interesting and compelling stories in the game’s history) to see the very best players in one league and any fool can see the presence of European players elevated the beautiful game. I don’t know where the line is, some say it was Salming and Hammarstrom coming to Toronto, others believe it was Vaclav Nedomansky signing in the WHA, but it’s been a wonderful 30 years watching these men play the game down at the local rink. It might be time for someone else to have a turn.

Currently, we’re looking at the possibility of some very good NHL calibre players opting out of their contracts to play in Russia. Most of them are Russian, but if the league flies we may one day look at a modern day “Larionov in reverse” as a Canadian kid plays the heart of his career in another league despite being more than qualified for the NHL.

Part of the reason is that Russia has some big money aimed at the very best hockey players in the world and some of them are taking it. I think it’s a good thing.

Seriously.

The Predator Radulov is the lightning rod example currently but there will be others. There are legal questions in regard to walking a contract (as Radulov and Alexander Yashin have done in recent years) but it seems to obscure the real news: there’s a second major league for hockey fans and that can only mean a major shift in thinking for the Conservative Hockey League (NHL).

I think the idea of the KHL (or a rival league of any kind) is a good one, as long as these players are getting the agreed upon dollars and the working conditions are the same. For fans, the quality of play might be diluted somewhat but it’s also true a league as arrogant and as out of touch as the NHL could use a good hard kick in the junk as a friendly reminder about who pays the freight. It could mean things like more Canadian teams in the big leagues (Quebec, Winnipeg, Toronto also deserves an NHL team) and will most certainly kill any future work stoppages planned by the lawyer Bettman.

If Alexander Radulov wants to play in Russia he should be free to do so (contract obviously aside) and if Denis Grebeshkov signs in the KHL one year from now then we’ll have to learn to live with it. Other than that, I think it’s a grand idea. Is the KHL going to be on cable this winter? Hope so.

written by

The author didn‘t add any Information to his profile yet.
Related Posts

20 Responses to "Sweet, Beautiful Competition"

  1. ryanbatty says:

    I wasn’t around when the WHA was taking its first steps. I would assume though that the commentary from the NHL then was very similar to what we’re hearing from the now. Essentially, “This new league is not really competition for the NHL. How could it be the NHL is the best league in the world.”

    In the long term I don’t know if this league will be anymore successful than the WHA was. But it will at least make some of the old guard in the NHL think about just how they do business because losing players as talented as Radulov will seriously impact a teams performance from one year to the next.

  2. Jonathan says:

    I think the idea of the KHL (or a rival league of any kind) is a good one, as long as these players are getting the agreed upon dollars and the working conditions are the same. For fans, the quality of play might be diluted somewhat but it’s also true a league as arrogant and as out of touch as the NHL could use a good hard kick in the junk as a friendly reminder about who pays the freight.

    Two points here: I really agree with the notion that the NHL needs competition; it has become complacent and arrogant and if it were less of either it might be doing a better job making itself accessable to fans.

    The second is that I doubt the KHL will be the league to do it. It’s basically the RSL with a facelift and newer arenas, and the RSL had all sorts of problems that dwarfed those of the NHL. Dave King’s (and Erik Duhatschek’s) book King of Russia is an excellent, excellent read for anyone wanting to get a feel for the RSL, and there were just some bizarre things happening there: barracks for the players at home, teams going bankrupt and not paying players for months on end, contending teams in financial difficulty dumping half their roster one-third through the season, and a bizarre mentality straight through the coaching staff, trainers, and executive groups.

    The money will be good in places, and the lure of playing at home will appeal to Russians, but I doubt this league ever seriously threatens the NHL.

  3. Lowetide says:

    jonathan: Yeah, the league no doubt has its troubles. Having said that, the WHA had many of the same maladies (although I don’t recall a barracks story) and changed the game forever.

  4. uni says:

    KHL games will likely be slingboxed (streamed over the Infonets) by a number of fans who get the games.

    Google “myp2p” first link will get you there; or type in www. myp2p. eu without the spaces.

    Any Igor Ulanov fans out there would already know this and have used it for Yaroslav Locomotiv games in the past ;).

  5. Doogie2K says:

    Whenever I read stuff like the passage Jonathan highlighted, I get this big neon “WHA” sign in my head. It’s eerily familiar, at least based on my own readings on the subject; the arrogant, complacent NHL, the upstart league whose only initial plus is a willingness to throw around scads of cash (real or not). The real question is whether the KHL has legs, and has reformed some of its more Soviet-era practices, or whether it is just a glorified RSL. What are the odds we hear any really wacky stories out of there, anyway? I mean, I don’t remember there being much out prior to King and the Hat, but then, there’s a lot more that comes out of everywhere than there was three years ago.

  6. PDO says:

    I’m lucky enough to know a few people who know a few people, if you know what I mean. The Russian league certainly has appeal for a lot of reasons, and I don’t think a little competition for the NHL would ever be a bad thing, (“Wait, you mean, if we don’t play this year, we’ll lose players and fans to Russia? Crap…”) but the KHL isn’t the answer here unless something huge changes there.

    The mob has it’s fingers in the pie, and while $2,000,000 tax free sounds great, something tells me that when you suddenly get paid all of it in cash at the end of the season and then get pulled over at customs because you looked “suspicious,” and all your money is confiscated… see where I’m going?

    The NHL is a league run by (mostly) legitimate businessmen.

    The KHL is not, and until it is, we may lose a Radulov and a Grebeshkov…

    … but we’re not going to lose a Nash, Turris, or even a Staios.

    I also think, the bigger story, is that American hockey is growing at a grassroots level, and much of what we may very well lose from Europeans will be replaced with (right shooting!) Americans.

  7. Doogie2K says:

    I also think, the bigger story, is that American hockey is growing at a grassroots level, and much of what we may very well lose from Europeans will be replaced with (right shooting!) Americans.

    That’s a sidebar to the story I hadn’t really considered. I know we’re seeing more college kids — both Canadian Junior A players and American high school/USHL players — and you often see stories these days of hockey starting to blossom in unexpected places like Dallas and Miami. Obviously, cost is a prohibitive factor, relative to something like basketball, as is the relative lack of winter ice/sport culture, but the very fact that we might see genuine NHLers from the sun belt is the only real reason to feel optimistic about the long-term for southern expansion teams.

    That being said, I’m not seeing Texas and Florida and California becoming the kind of pipelines that Sweden and Finland and Russia have. Even if it’s mainly Russia that’s cut out of the picture, that’s still a sizeable country with a rich hockey tradition that’s not sending its best and brightest to play in the NHL, and that’s never a good thing for the League.

  8. PDO says:

    I think you’re underestimating how many Americans are being drafed Doogie.

    In 2005 in the first round, there were 8. Another 9 in 2006. 2007 brought it up to an even third at 10, and just this last draft, another 6 went. There has been at least one in the top 3 in all of these seasons.

    It’s a changing of the guard.

  9. Jonathan says:

    Fun anecdote from King’s book, pg. 90-91:

    We were playing at Moscow Dynamo at seven o’clock and had some down time at the arena before the game. I… asked them [assistant coaches], “What’s the plan for after the game, in terms of a meal?” We had an hour-and-a-half drive from Moscow Stadium to the airport, so I was assuming we were going to get some food for the bus. Oh yes, we were. I said, “Terrific, what are we going to get?” They said, “we’re going to get McDonald’s.” “Well, okay, fast food, I guess that’ll work. When are we going to pick it up?” The answer: “Oh, don’t worry, we’ve already got it.”

    I said, “What? It’s four-thirty and you’ve already got the food?” … “Where does Roman have the food?” “In the trunk of his car.” Imagine now, it’s four-thirty in the afternoon. The game will be over at nine-thirty or ten. “Do you realize that’s five to six hours? That food’s going to be a little bit cold. Couldn’t we just arrange to pick it up after the game and send someone in a taxi to get it? The McDonald’s is only about four blocks from the arena.” But when I said that, they looked at me as if I were from another planet. “Why would we send a taxi to pick it up” I said, “Because it would be hot, because it would be fresher.” Nope, can’t do it that way.

    There are so many bizarre incidents in King’s book (the one quoted is fairly typical, and less serious than most) that barring a massive cultural change, I really have difficulty seeing North American players moving en masse to the KHL.

  10. Doogie2K says:

    I think you’re underestimating how many Americans are being drafed Doogie.

    In 2005 in the first round, there were 8. Another 9 in 2006. 2007 brought it up to an even third at 10, and just this last draft, another 6 went. There has been at least one in the top 3 in all of these seasons.

    It’s a changing of the guard.

    I thought you were referring more to growth in the non-traditional markets. Yeah, that is true, there are a hell of a lot more American kids getting drafted now than at any time in the recent past. Is it a case of the American development system improving that much, or just more talented young American athletes favouring hockey over the other sports?

  11. Showerhead says:

    While I definitely prefer the idea of one league with all of the world’s best players in it… and while I especially love that hockey’s best league is in the same continent as me… I think there could be one exciting benefit for the NHL if its talent pool gets diluted a little bit.

    Let’s assume that we still keep most of the Crosbys and Ovechkins of the hockey world and that the majority of talent lost is mid-level or bubble-level. That mid-tier talent needs to be replaced somehow, likely by players that are currently career AHLers or of similar quality. As the quality of your average replacement player goes down and you maintain your top drawer talent as best as you can, you move towards a league with greater disparity between the puck wizard leading the puck up the ice and the hapless defender who is only on the ice because his coach fucked up. Should be a formula for more highlight reel goals, no?

    It is my theory, anyway, that parity is good for revenue, good for the playoffs, and good for vegas… just not nearly as good for Sportscenter as disparity could be.

    Also, if we go through the 80′s again, that means Edmonton wins a bunch of Cups, right?

  12. Black Dog says:

    I think you’re going to see what we are seeing now – vets near the end of their career and kids who can make a whole lot more then their entry level deals.

    I think a guy like Grebeshkov isn’t sexy enough to command big money over there whereas here he will likely get the standard 3.5-4 MM dollar contract if he has a good year.

  13. garnet says:

    Don’t let anyone you care about play for the new team in Belarus!

  14. Jamie says:

    Russians love their hockey. IMO, this league will be around for a while and will grow to be competition.

    My concern, or rather hypothetical question, lies with how the NHLPA will cope with this new competition.

    Their membership (the players) agreed to a "cap" of money to be used as salaries on each team. As a union, their breathern have agreed to the all for one, one for all concept – however warped it is that one guy will get 700K while his linemate makes 10x that. Yet the quasi-free market dictates who gets the best pay and to which amount. On this front, the NHL will still be competitive to the marquee players. But what about the rest of the team?

    As far as I'm aware, the KHL has no unionized player system and are offering big payouts and tax-free financial incentives. What happens when the KHL average salary exceeds that of the NHL average?

    Should the KHL gain a strong enough foothold, could it be enough to break the NHLPA? Will the competition of the KHL be enough of a force the NHL & the NHLPA revisit the CBA (thus making the 2004 lockout all the more momentus)?

    To quote Bryan Hall: "I'm not saying, just saying…"

  15. PDO says:

    Your first problem, was that you quoted Bryan Hall.

    Your second problem, is that the KHL is capped, and is half of what the NHL is.

    Your third problem, is that while the Russians offer tax free money…

    Well, I guess it’s a tax if it comes from the government.

    What’s it called when the mob takes it though?

    Because I know of at least one guy who spent his share of time in the show, gave Russia a shot, and will never go back due to the fact that he was paid cash when his last game ended… that was quickly confiscated at the border when he got on a plane by “certain” people who “may” have belonged to the mob.

    Until Russia cleans up its act in that respect, the NHL has absolutely nothing to worry about.

  16. PDO says:

    I thought you were referring more to growth in the non-traditional markets.

    I’d consider ANYWHERE Stateside, with the possible exception of Minnesota, a non-traditional market.

    Yeah, that is true, there are a hell of a lot more American kids getting drafted now than at any time in the recent past. Is it a case of the American development system improving that much, or just more talented young American athletes favouring hockey over the other sports?

    Bit of both, I think.

    When a kid chooses a sport, I’d assume/remember that there are three major factors:

    A) Is it fun?

    B) Am I good at it? Better than most people?

    C) Is there influence from Stars… ex: Gretzky in LA… more recently you’d have the cups in Dallas, Tampa and Carolina.

    So.. you have more kids being exposed to the game and the stars, which leads to more kids continuing to play it because they’re either talented or they have fun. And thus you have more Americans becoming players in the NHL.

  17. Jonathan says:

    Should the KHL gain a strong enough foothold, could it be enough to break the NHLPA? Will the competition of the KHL be enough of a force the NHL & the NHLPA revisit the CBA (thus making the 2004 lockout all the more momentus)?

    Paul Kelly seems like a real sharp customer (it would be nice if he was, say, commisioner instead of NHLPA head). I think the NHLPA won’t have a problem with its members playing overseas- it doesn’t really matter ho’s paying the players, as long as the players are getting as much as possible from their perspective IMO.

  18. Lowetide says:

    This might be a dumb question, but are ALL North American pro hockey players members of the NHLPA? Those in Europe who are under contract to NHL teams? Those in Europe who have been drafted by NHL teams? Former NHL players now playing in Europe?

  19. Jonathan says:

    From the NHLPA website:

    The NHLPA is a labour union whose members are the players in the NHL and whose mandate is to represent their interests.

    Presumably, ex-players, AHL’ers, etc. don’t qualify.

  20. Jonathan says:

    And confirmed from here:

    The Professional Hockey Players’ Association is the representative body for all professional hockey players within the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL, respectively. As the only minor league Players’ Association within a major league sport, the PHPA is one of the largest and oldest Players’ Associations within the professional sports industry, boasting approximately 1,400 Members situated over 54 teams throughout North America.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

© Copyright - Lowetide.ca