I agree with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and not just because I’m on a strict no-poison diet—and my doctor says I should avoid having bullets shot into my head right now. (See: Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya.)
The former KGB agent took time away from his busy day of installing economic reforms and having journalists silenced to voice his support of expanding the Kontinental Hockey League west to include non-Soviet nations, thereby becoming a “pan-European league.”
According to the Interfax news agency, Putin listed Switzerland, Sweden, Slovakia and the Czech Republic as possible candidates.
Those familiar with recent history might suppose Russia will use hockey fights as a pretense to invade countries or that natural gas pipelines will be cut off to countries whose teams defeat Russian squads in important games.
Don’t be silly, that probably wouldn’t happen. Probably.
Despite my reassuring use of the word ‘probably’—based on two Russian history courses I occasionally attended in university—some are likely still hesitant to cross sticks with the Red Menace.
Rest assured, Putin said the league would be run “without any administrative domination,” which is even more comforting when you forget how only four European nations were in his list of countries.
Currently, the KHL has 24 teams, counting three non-Russian federation teams from Belarus, Latvia and Kazakhstan.
The way I see it, the more countries involved in any league is a good thing. It can be good for relations, economies and, more importantly, it can make regular season games seem much more important.
It could also cause a small tourism boom in places outside of Moscow and Kiev, like when Siberia became the most popular vacation spot for Russians during Joseph Stalin’s rule.
However, the KHL should pull a Peter the Great and open the league to more outside players.
Currently Russian teams in the KHL are allowed only five foreign players on the roster and only four can play in a game. Foreign goalies also have restrictions on total seasonal ice time.
To be comparable to the NHL, and to balance the league, any such restrictions must be sent to the gulag.
Also, the KHL should consider the long-term possibility of merging with another league, such as the Eastern European Hockey League. But that would be highly complicated, so they shouldn’t be rushin’ into things.
Contact Tom Patrick at