Changes are coming to the KHL following the announcement that former NHLer Slava Fetisov was named to the league’s board of directors.
In particular, Fetisov has two big ideas for the KHL, according to Slava Malamud, a Russian hockey reporter. The first has long been talked about: a move into China. As soon as the 2016-17 season, the KHL could expand into China. It’s a big move for the expansion of hockey globally and could yield interesting results in Russia, where the KHL started to have struggles financially last season. On top of internationally monetary forces, a few teams were accused of being late with payments to players and three teams sat out for the season due to financial forces.
Slava Fetisov elected to the KHL Board of Directors. Promises to expand the league to China, block Russian players from leaving for NHL.
— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) July 29, 2015
The other major change he’s looking for was talked about previously as well. Fetisov wants to implement rules so that young Russian players are blocked from leaving the KHL. Back in May, Fetisov made headlines when he said publicly that he thinks Russian players should have to remain in Russian leagues until they’re 28. Now, with his new appointment, it’s the first time he’ll be able to actively make an impact on that kind of decision.
It’s a decision that could have a major impact on the NHL. The number of talented young Russian players is far from negligible and for the NHL to be the world’s best league, it should include talented young Russian players like Vladimir Tarasenko, Valeri Nichushkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and others. While there are plenty of players in the KHL who could be in the NHL right now — Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Radulov, to name two of the more notable players — if it was a full exclusion of all Russian players under 28, the NHL would be a lesser league.
The influx of Russian free agents from the KHL has even become a regular part of summer free agency. This summer, NHL clubs signed a handful of Russians who played in the KHL last season, including Artemy Panarin (a transfer Fetisov was unhappy about), Viktor Tikhonov, Alexander Burmistrov and Evgeni Medvedev. Even some of those previously mention notables have discussed the possibility of leaving the KHL soon, with Radulov, Kovalchuk and Sergei and Andrei Kostitsyn disclosing that they were either actively looking for a NHL team or considering a move next summer. The NHL benefits from being the best league in the world and from having talented Russian players involved.
There are no timelines as to when Fetisov — who came to the NHL at age 31 and won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings — could make a push for such changes, but it’s a development worth paying attention to as the season starts and we head toward the return of the World Cup of Hockey in the summer of 2016.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.