Guest Post: The KHL and the Champions Hockey League
Editor’s note: I am very happy to turn the blog over this evening to Tomáš Vorčák (@vorkywh24 on Twitter), who has some thoughts to share on the relationship between the KHL and the Champions Hockey League. Tomáš is an excellent source of KHL news and information, and I hope that you find his words on the current state of pan-European hockey as interesting as I did. Read on!
There have been many attempts to create a multi-national competition for hockey clubs in Europe since 1965 (source 1). They were more or less successful , but no competition has survived till nowadays. The latest example of such a tournament was the Champions Hockey League in the 2008/2009 season; the tournament was played with 12 clubs from seven countries including Russian clubs from the KHL, which was created before the season.
The Russians had an idea of launching a Eurasian hockey league even before the KHL was created. “The new league will include clubs from Russia, Eastern & Western Europe and Far East – China, Japan and South Korea are in our plans” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, leader of the working group for the EAHL (Eurasian Hockey League), for sovsport.ru in October 2005 (source 2). The founding father of EAHL was Vyacheslav Fetisov. The project did not materialise at the time, but later, in 2008, the KHL was launched under the leadership of Alexander Medvedev from Gazprom. Both Fetisov and Medvedev as founders of the KHL have advocated a one-league idea, which opposes the idea of European bureaucrats from national hockey federations. The KHL has always wanted to expand to Europe.
The Nordic Trophy was created as a preseason tournament for Swedish and Finnish clubs in 2006. Later, in 2010, the tournament was renamed the European Trophy because some other European clubs joined. European clubs wanted to create alternative competition for the clubs, because they did not want the European clubs to join the KHL. Barcelona held a hockey forum in June 2012 (source 3), where the future of European hockey clubs competition was discussed . The KHL proposed the model of one closed league as mentioned earlier, but European hockey officials wanted to see a competition similar to soccer´s UEFA Champions League, so a parallel tournament to national championships. That is not a surprise because they had such a tournament at the time, the European Trophy. For a number of reasons the European Trophy was re-branded to the current Champions Hockey League (CHL), which was started in the 2014/2015 season.
The CHL has tried to acquire the KHL clubs since that time. “If we don’t want to be farm teams for the KHL in Europe, then the CHL is a competition to be a rival to them,” said Patrik Martinec, Sparta Prague´s sport director, to aktualne.cz (source 4) in June 2014. His colleague from Sparta, GM Petr Bříza (also a CHL Board member), revealed that the CHL´s ultimate goal is to create one pan-european league, which would replace national championships (source 5). That contradicts ideas which were presented during the Barcelona Forum by European hockey officials. National hockey championships in Europe have a long tradition, so it is very unlikely to abandon them, especially as the Swedish SHL has a lucrative TV contract starting in 2018 (source 6). The Swedes won’t agree with Bříza´s idea and a league without them would be pointless, because Swedish clubs are the most successful in the CHL. To sum it up, a pan-european hockey league without both KHL (Russians) and SHL would be dead from day one.
Of course, the CHL is losing credibility and image because Russian/KHL clubs don’t play the tournament. The CHL needs KHL clubs on board more than the KHL needs European clubs to join the league. The KHL´s long term plan is to expand to Europe (and Asia) and the existence of the CHL wont stop them. The KHL is confident now, and does not need to accept every proposal from European clubs about joining; the KHL will select some of European clubs which will be able to strengthen the league from an image, financial and sport point of view. And all that is long-term. When asked how negotiations with the CHL were going, Chernyshenko replied that CHL leadership is not able to explain the benefits for the KHL and their clubs if the join the CHL (source 7). The CHL wants the best KHL clubs, like SKA or CSKA, to join the tournament, but what would the KHL gain? The CHL had prize money at a level of 1,5 million euro in 15/16 season (source 8) and plans to double that by 2023. But it is not enough to attract the KHL. To compare, the best KHL clubs spend around 950 million rubles (around 15 million euro) for players’ salaries only. It might be even more, because the KHL does not have hard salary cap; the soft cap is 950 million rubles in 16/17 (source 9), but there is a luxury tax if the club spends more for salaries.
Another argument for the KHL not to join the CHL is the KHL´s schedule. It is intense, with a lot of travelling across Eurasia. Of course there are international breaks for the Euro Hockey Tour, a national teams competition. It is exactly during these breaks that the CHL plays their tournament. The KHL will never trade participation in the CHL for national team of Russia matches in the EHT. Therefore, the KHL has proposed the model of one or two matches between the CHL champion and the KHL Gagarin Cup holder, but the CHL´s leadership is not interested in such a format; they want four KHL clubs joining the tournament in its playoffs (source 10).
Szymon Szemberg, former CHL Communications Director, tweeted that “it is a pity that KHL ignores CHL and only competes against themselves. This hurts development in European and Russian hockey” (source 11). It is in the best interest of European hockey to keep domestic players in European championships as long as possible. Has the CHL achieved this goal? Of course not: Patrik Laine & co. signed in the NHL last summer instead of playing in Europe (CHL) until they were 20-22 years old. On the other hand, the KHL is able to keep their players in the league for a longer time than CHL clubs.
- https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/836266640186695687 and https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/836321787210235905
by Tomáš Vorčák