KHL ready to welcome locked out NHLers
The Russians are ready.
With time ticking down until the NHL is expected to lock out its players, KHL teams and executives are bracing for a windfall. The Russian-based league will open its arms to NHL players who wake up Sept. 16 without a place to play because it believes it can capitalize while arenas go dark around North America.
“Mainly I think it’s going to be a lot of additional marketing potential for the league and hockey itself as a game,” KHL vice-president Ilya Kochevrin told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
“The stars bring additional attention ... to a lot of people who probably don’t consider hockey the sport of choice.
“I think as a marketing tool it’s a great opportunity.”
Most of the top Russian players are expected to quickly make their way home if the NHL and NHL Players’ Association are unable to reach a new collective bargaining agreement by Sept. 15. Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk have already been linked to KHL teams — as have Sergei Gonchar, Nikolai Kulemin and others.
It will be interesting to see how many top players from other countries join them in the event of a lockout.
Swedish players, for example, won’t be permitted to play in their homeland after the country’s hockey federation announced last month that all contracts must last for the entire year — something Henrik Zetterberg or Erik Karlsson wouldn’t sign because of the possibility the NHL season gets underway after a short stoppage.
Karlsson bemoaned that fact to reporters after a skate with teammates in Ottawa on Tuesday, saying it didn’t leave Swedes with many options. “Maybe the Swedish League changes its mind once it gets closer,” he added.
Six of the KHL’s 26 teams are based in countries other than Russia and the league has designs on expanding its reach even further. Two regular-season games are already scheduled for the newly built Barclays Center in Brooklyn in January and the league has looked into its options for showing games on TV in North America this season.
“We’re waiting for the outcome (of the NHL’s labour negotiations),” said Kochevrin. “There is definitely great interest from broadcasters and I’m pretty sure once the (NHL’s) deal is announced one way or the other, you’re going to see (that).
“I’m pretty sure that if there is a lockout the KHL can be a definite choice for North American hockey fans.”