Somewhere in Moscow, Vladamir Putin is sitting back in his recliner, stroking his beard, smiling manically. Why? Because as matters took a potential turn for the worst this weekend, and the lockout 2.0 seems more eminent than ever, the KHL can only sit back and watch the NHL implode, ready to feast on the soulless remains of frustrated fans.
It's no secret that Russian Hockey wants to breach into the North American market. Last year they announced English commentary try-outs for doing the live-coverage of their games. TSN 2, in Canada, covered the KHL allstar game. And, of course, there are the two pre-season games being played in Brooklyn this year. A lock out means three things for the KHL. The obvious first is the 1 year acquisitions of some of the best NHL players, thus increasing the overall quality of the league. The second and third involved the potentially permanent shift in hockey league powerhouses. Drastic? Yes. Possible? More than you'd ever want to believe, kid.
Some might find this hard to believe, especially those who are allied to General Gary Bettman, but negotiations suck, being locked out sucks, having to find a new random home to play hockey in sucks, and being on a team that is bullied by the league so you and your pals can make more money sucks a lot.
It's an absurd strategy to encourage European prospects to play in the NHL. Like ... really absurd. It's the best hockey in the world, of that there is no doubt, but two lock outs in eight years is colossal incentive to weigh a few more options when choosing a league to play in. Especially for European players who could play next door (ish) instead of crossing an ocean. The KHL is already aggressively attempting to recruit and develop the best talent.
Think about this for a sec, and it's a bit of a curve ball, how many fans from North American will see two KHL pre-season games and think "Wow, that's the league I want to watch!"? ... Somewhere around 15 maybe? But how many North American prospects, 15-18 years old, will see those games and re-consider the KHL as a potential hockey option? Especially those in jeopardy of being drafted in the last 4 rounds. According to wikipedia an anonymous source, 110 North Americans participated in last year's KHL entry draft.
Enough about the players, they're too overpaid to be the centerpiece of this article. Let's talk fans. North American fans are incredibly loyal to the NHL. We know we get spoiled with the best talent on ice and, as we saw after the 2004 lockout, we came back like horses to the water for more hockey. As did fans from around the world actually. We let the NHL get away with it.
You'd be surprised at how many NHL fans there are in Europe though. Or maybe you wouldn't be, I mean we have been running two regular season games a year there over the last 5 years to try to incite their viewership. We also get many of their best places to play in the NHL. And, again, we are the best hockey league in the world. Not that the Swedish Elite league is bad, but soccer fans here will watch the MLS and the EUFA. We like our soccer and the best soccer in the world.
It's funny to bring up an MLS because it is, in my mind, one of the two fastest growing sports organizations in the world. It's expanding, getting new talent, growing it's fanbase and doing great promotion. Kind of like the KHL.
The KHL's growing quality and proximity to Scandinavia and Europe, proximity to the point that they are trying to recruit teams from those countries, means that an NHL lockout will be a disaster for our European fan base. In 2004 the KHL was barely a league. And that's not a turn of words, they we're under old ownership and had no game plan. That has changed, and now they have one goal, and that is to be the best hockey league in the world, and it will start by consuming the a European fanbase searching for the best hockey to watch in 2012.
Mark my words Bettman, the NHL's fight with the KHL for hockey suppremacy is on the line. Way more than you're willing to admit.