Template:Infobox sports league The Kontinental Hockey League (in Russian: Континентальная хоккейная лига, Kontinentalnaya Hokkeinaya Liga) (KHL) is an international professional league based in Eurasia, created in 2008 out of the Russian Superleague. The league comprises teams from five countries: Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine. The vast majority of the teams (20) are based in Russia, while each of the other four countries has one team.
A vast majority of the 718 players who took part in the league activities in 2009-10 are of Russian ethnicity. A minority of 28.5% of the players have other origins, mostly Eastern Europeans, Northern Europeans and a small 4.2% of North Americans.
History[edit | edit source]
Original format[edit | edit source]
Initially, the KHL included all 20 teams of the RSL, plus Khimik Voskresensk and Barys Astana of the Vysshaya Liga, a new Dynamo Minsk and a new Dinamo Riga. The league established itself as a major one and thus aimed at becoming a major competitor to the National Hockey League. The league's trophy is the Gagarin Cup; the name was chosen as a tribute to Yuri Gagarin since the league's calendar was set so that the Cup finals falls at the latest on April 12th, the anniversary date of Gagarin's historical flight.
The new league was to be closed to the promotion and relegation system straight from the beginning. The league was initially divided into four divisions, named after legendary names of Russian/Soviet hockey (Vsevolod Bobrov, Anatoli Tarasov, Valeri Kharlamov and Arkady Chernyshev). Teams were drawn randomly into the four divisions according to the following process: first, all 20 teams coming from the RSL had their names put in 5 ballot boxes; depending on their performances in the league, they were put in the first box (best teams) and so on through the last. A sixth ballot box was added for the four newcomer teams, who were starting at zero, having no RSL record. Then, from these 6 boxes, a draw was made to decide the division members; for each division, there was one name drawn per box. Divisions will be changed after the end of every season following the same system. The purpose of this unusual process was to make the league fair for everyone, in terms of travel costs and level. The system was hardly tested straight away, as the two most distant teams of the league, Riga and Khabarovsk were picked to play in the same division, making travel costs heavy for both teams, as teams from a same division play each other more often than they play other teams. The inaugural divisions went as follows:
Each team plays four times against the other teams of its division and twice against the other teams, for a total of 56 games per season. The first 16 teams advance to the playoffs; just like in the NHL, the league's top four seeds will be occupied by every division winner. The first round of the playoffs will be a best-of-five format; further rounds will be best-of-seven. By doing so, they ensure that even in the worst case, the league's final will always be on April 12th, anniversary of the historical flight of Yuri Gagarin.
Initially, Khimik Voskresensk was supposed to play in the Vysshaya Liga, while Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg was planned to play in the KHL, a first time in 12 years for the Ekaterinburg club to play at the top level in Russia. However, financial problems arose and the team had to be withdrawn from the upstart league; Voskresensk, that had been crowned Vysshaya Liga champion the previous season (beating Ekaterinburg in the finals) replaced them, while Avtomobilist returned for one more season in the second level of Russian hockey.
A salary cap 562,500,000 roubles (roughly 23.5 million euros) was adopted for a squad of 25 players, of which 162,500,000 roubles (6.8 millions) was to be spent on four "star players". The league resurrected the long dead NHL concept of the Waivers Draft and for a first time European hockey, a system of Entry Draft alike what is used in North America. Additionally, a system of farm teams was set up by the Russian Hockey Federation. The result was the Molodezhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga (MHL).
2008-09: the inauguration[edit | edit source]
All ready for its inauguration, the very North American-looking KHL held its inaugural match on September 2nd 2008 with the newly created Dinamo Riga playing some 6,000 kilometers away from home in the Russian Far East against Amur Khabarovsk. Aleksandrs Nizivijs earned the distinction of being the first scorer in the league's history 11 minutes 39 seconds into the game on a two-man advantage powerplay; Riga defeated Khabarovsk 4-2. Salavat Yulaev Ufa won the first edition of the Opening Cup by beating Lokomotiv Yaroslavl 4-1.
The league's promising debuts suddenly darkened when Alexei Cherepanov, a highly touted young player, died on the ice on October 13th 2008 during a game between his Avangard Omsk and the home team, Vityaz Chekhov. The young star collapsed on his team's bench following a collision on the ice with his teammate Jaromir Jagr. Medical intervention was delayed by the premature departure of the ambulance that usually stays at the arena during game time that had to be called back; it took between 15 and 20 minutes to get Cherepanov to the hospital, according to reports. Though attempts to get his heart beating again were successful on five occasions, including one where he regained consciousness and recognized his teammates, nothing could ultimately be done to save Cherepanov's life. The young forward, who was suffering of a myocarditis, a disease that results in not enough blood flowing to the heart, was found to have consumed nikethamide 3 hours prior to the game; investigating experts said that he had been engaged in doping for months.
The incident cast a serious shadow over the KHL and the sheer amount of negligence that built up to Cherepanov's death triggered several punitive moves. Omsk club director Mikhail Denisov has been fired, whereas the league Disciplinary Committee has since removed Omsk's doctors from that role with the club, and suspended Avangard general manager Anatoly Bardin and team president Konstantin Potapov. Chekhov's team president was also suspended.
On January 10th 2009, the league held its first All-Star Game. The format opposed Team Yashin, made up of the best Russian players of the league, to Team Jágr, made up of the best foreign players. The match was played outside, on a rink built on the Red Square, in Moscow. The game was, however, unsuccesful at the gates, due to the cold weather and the very small capacity of the purposely built facilities. Team Jágr defeated Team Yashin 7-6.
The league however finished its inaugural season on an excellent note, as the playoffs proved incredible. Avangard, a team that has been plagued all season long with poor results and the aforementioned death, only narrowly qualified for the playoffs with a weak 16th place overall, despite having an excellent team on paper. And this is in good part what made the playoffs so exciting, as Avangard turned into some sort of a "giant-killer" that wreaked much havoc. They first eliminated the defending champions, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, in four games and seriously menaced the future champions Ak Bars Kazan, leading the series 2-1 after three games, forcing the Tatar club to come out strong or fall. And very strong did they come out: Ak Bars hammered Avangard 11-1 in the fourth match to make the series even again. And in an epic fifth match, Kazan defeated Omsk 3-2 after trailing 1-2 with 16 seconds to go in the third period.
2009-10: the sophomore season[edit | edit source]
Much changes were to be expected for the second season of the league. With the 2008 Financial Crisis raging and seriously hitting Russia, adjustments had to be made to ensure its teams can hold on. First, Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg had a sweet revenge on Khimik Voskresensk by taking its place in the KHL. Voskresensk had been accepted very late as a replacement for Ekaterinburg within the KHL, but definitely didn't have the finances nor the skills to compete with the other teams in the league, as its roster was initially ready for a season in the Vysshaya Liga. Khimik had finished dead last, and had to drop its best players to save money. Not financially viable for the KHL, it was replaced back by Avtomobilist. Khimik nevertheless maintained its KHL membership, making it possible for it to come back at a later time, when the finances of the team have improved.
Second, the controversial divisions of the inaugural season (which had put Riga and Khabarovsk together in the same division) were replaced by a more intuitive geographical conferences and divisions system. The league also decided to innovate in the fight against the voluntary-tanking of teams in order to get the first pick overall. The league will now implement a little tournament to be played by the teams who failed to qualify for the playoffs. The winner of the tournament will get the coveted first pick, the runner-up the second, and so on. With the Molodezhnaya Hokkeynaya Liga ready for its first season, each club now has to set as many as 25 players to fill its roster. Clubs are also allowed to loan players to Vysshaya Liga teams, but no more than 5 players can go out on loan, and a team is forbidden to loan to more than two different Vysshaya Liga teams. Additionally, the league is expected to become even more North American, as it is set to adopt North American goal crease size and continuous 20 minutes playoffs overtime periods, replacing the shoot outs.
The new season went under way on September 10th 2009 with the Opening Cup, featuring last season's two Gagarin Cup finalists. Ak Bars Kazan, last year's champion, defeated Lokomotiv Yaroslavl by the score of 3-2.
The league earned much publicity on December 11th when hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov laced up skates to play in a one-game comeback with his former team, CSKA Moscow. Fetisov, then aged 51, played 8 minutes and did not register a point, nor even a shot on goal; he actually finished the game with a -1. But his brief comeback created a large mediatic buzz in Russia and abroad. CSKA lost the game 3-2 to SKA Saint Petersburg, but the game was a success at the gates, with 5,600 spectators filling CSKA's arena. CSKA's full house on that night contrasted much with the hockey elsewhere in the league. Attendance figures in Saint Petersburg sharply rose, climbing from 6,614 to 9,400. Avangard Omsk, Torpedo Yaroslavl and Salavat Yulaev Ufa also ranked among the top ten European clubs drawing the highest attendance figures, with Dinamo Riga and Amur Khabarovsk not trailing far behind.
The season was once again somewhat tarnished by an incident between Avangard and Vityaz in Chekhov. This time, it's a bench-clearing brawl that broke out on January 9th 2010, a mere four minutes into the first period; 39 seconds later, a bench- and penalty-box clearing brawl broke out. The game was quickly getting out of hands and the officials decided it was better to cancel the whole game. Little else could be done, as a whopping total of 707 penalty minutes had been incurred - a new world record - and a total of 33 players on both teams have been ejected from the game, as well as both head coaches. Only four players avoided being ejected. The KHL imposed a total of 5.7 million rubles (about US $191,000) and suspended seven players. Additionally, this game became the first in the league history where both teams lost the game, as the league declared it would be a 5-0 loss for both Avangard and Vityaz. No team earned points for this match.
On January 30th, the KHL held its 2nd KHL All-Star Game, this time in Minsk, Belarus. Unlike the previous season, where the game was played outside, this one was held inside the brand new Minsk-Arena. For the second straight season, Team Jágr won against Team Yashin, this time with a score of 11–8.
Salavat Yulaev Ufa became KHL champion for a second straight season with 37 wins and 129 points, five better than Western Conference champions SKA Saint Petersburg, thus earning them the first ever Continental Cup awarded by the league. The playoffs began on March 10th. Ak Bars Kazan reached the finals for the second straight year and met HC MVD, the Cinderella team of the season. Kazan won the first two games 3-2 and 4-1, but young MVD managed to come back in the third game and walk out with a tight 3-2 win.
2010-11: crazy offseason[edit | edit source]
2010-11 saw several changes in its member teams. Financially suffering Lada Tolyatti has experienced the same fate as Khimik Voskresensk two years ago and was demoted to the Vysshaya Liga, until it can rebuild healthy finances. The league also witnessed the merger of two teams: HC MVD, after coming close to winning the Gagarin Cup, was forced to merge with Dynamo Moscow, a team with a long and glorious history, to form a new team, UHC Dynamo, to be based at the Megasport Arena in Moscow. It was said that the team would play some games in Balashikha as well.
With one team gone in the Eastern Conference and one spot now open in the Western Conference, the league welcomed two new teams to fill the gaps and keep its 24-teams format. The Eastern Conference will see Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk, originally from the Vysshaya Liga, take part in the 2010-11 activities, while the Western Conference will be completed with HC Budivelnyk, based in Kyiv, Ukraine. The club was created purposedly to join the KHL and will become the first Ukrainian team since Sokil Kyiv to play at the elite level of Russian/Soviet hockey; a gap of 14 years separates Sokil's last participation and Budivelnyk's arrival. Budivelnyk's arrival was supposed to mean the KHL would be experimenting, as the Kiev Palace of Sports, would have seen its rink size decreased to match NHL standards.
New twists however occured during the summer. It was announced that due to problems with the reconstruction of the Kiev Palace of Sports, Budivelnyk would be excluded from the league for 2010-11, thus leaving the league with 23 teams. In replacement, it was announced that long-time applicant Lev Poprad would replace Budivelnyk in the league. The team was initially known as Lev Hradec Králové, and hails from the Czech Republic. They had been wanting to join the league for a while, but never had their chance, especially with the Czech Ice Hockey Federation refusing to allow the team to play abroad. Lev countered the problem by moving the team to Poprad, Slovakia, where the federation did not oppose the club to have one team in the KHL and another one in the Slovak Extraliga. With this move, Lev became the first team based outside of the former U.S.S.R. to join the KHL.
But this situation was even shorter lived, as it was announced on July 28th that Lev wouldn't be admitted into the league after all. Further administrative duties (namely paying a compensation to Prohokej and HK Poprad, applying for membership in the Russian Hockey Federation and waiting for said federation to ask the Slovak Hockey Federation the permission for Lev to play in the KHL) compelled the team to make a decision as late as August 18th; the KHL decided to refuse this situation and cancelled Lev's admission to the league. The KHL announced it would play the 2010-11 season with 23 teams rather than 24 and would shorten the regular season by two games (from 54 to 52) to adjust to the new format.
Participating teams[edit | edit source]
League champions[edit | edit source]
|Kontinental Hockey League champions|
|Season||Champion||Runner-up||Series result||Regular season champions|
|2008-09||Ak Bars Kazan||Lokomotiv Yaroslavl||Salavat Yulaev Ufa|
|2009-10||Ak Bars Kazan||HC MVD||Salavat Yulaev Ufa|
Trophies and awards[edit | edit source]
- Cherepanov Memorial Trophy - awarded to the league's top rookie.
- Continental Cup - awarded to the regular season champions.
- Gagarin Cup - championship trophy awarded to the playoffs winner.
- Opening Cup - awarded to the winner of the season's opening game, which features previous year's Gagarin Cup finalists.
See also[edit | edit source]
- Minor Hockey League
- Russian Super League
- Category:Kontinental Hockey League
- Category:Kontinental Hockey League coaches
- Category:Kontinental Hockey League players
- Category:Kontinental Hockey League seasons
Sources and references[edit | edit source]
- Metallurg Magnitogorsk's website. It contains a release of the rules of the new league. In Russian only.
- Article on the KHL on eurohockey.net