The KHL: Who were they trying to ban?

Zack Stortini (5of7/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 2.0)

When the possibility of a lockout was still uncertain, KHL was looked at as the haven players would go to if all goes to hell. NHL’s nemesis took its time before announcing special criteria for foreign players willing to cross the Atlantic for a lockout shelter. You would assume KHL put us all on hold to come up with criteria that would really unsure that only top players could come.

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They sure fooled us big time, didn’t they?

The Criteria

In case you missed it, here are KHL official criteria for non-Russian NHL players.

The document comes into effect in the event of the NHL officially announcing the lock-out and would remain in force until the NHL officially declares the lock-out to be over. The amendment will cover players with existing NHL contracts, excluding those with two-way NHL contracts who are consigned by their clubs to lower league teams for the duration of the lockout.

KHL Hockey Operations Vice-President Vladimir Shalaev outlined the main points of the amendment: “Our clubs have been granted the opportunity to enter into contracts and place on their main rosters no more than three NHL players, and the previously established limit of 25 players per team may be exceeded by the addition of these players. For Russian clubs, only one of the three NHL players may be a foreigner, and this player must meet one of the following criteria set down to ensure that only top-level foreign players come to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.”

Criteria for foreign players signed from NHL:

– Has played no fewer than 150 games in the NHL over the last three seasons;

– Has experience of playing in the KHL;

– Represented his country at one of the last two IIHF World Championships, World Junior Championships or the Olympics;

– Is a Stanley Cup winner, a Stanley Cup finalist, or a winner of one of the individual prizes awarded by the National Hockey League at the close of the season.

KHL clubs based in countries other than Russia may sign more than one foreign player among the maximum three NHL players. Moreover, the above criteria for foreign players will not apply to KHL clubs based outside Russia.’

"Top-level foreign players" they say. And this document is what they came up with. A document where they contradict their noble goal from the beginning. If you want to ensure KHL clubs would only sign top NHLers, why aren’t you applying these criteria to those with 2-way contracts? Aren’t they the ones you need to ban?

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Sidney Crosby (Michael Miller/Wikimedia/CC SA-BY 3.0)

How many NHL players with 1-way deals didn’t play 150 games in the past 3 seasons? Not a whole lot. Something really bad had to happen to force you to play less than an average of 50 games for the past 3 seasons. Most likely it was an injury ordeal, which in no way makes you a bad player. Sidney Crosby is an excellent example – he played 144 games in the past 3 years, even though he was sidelined most of the time for the past 18 months.

Luckily for him, he won a Stanley Cup and was part of Team Canada at the recent Olympics in Vancouver, so he’s has nothing to worry about. He’s approved by the KHL. Phew, what a relief it must be for him.

Others weren’t so lucky. Joffrey Lupul (143 games) of the Toronto Maple Leafs should waste his time looking for lockout job in Russia. Same goes for Sabres Nathan Gerbe (146 games) and Tyler Ennis (140 games). Unlike Crosby, they don’t meet any other KHL criteria.

It is not a secret KHL hasn’t been happy with Vityaz Chekhov. In the past few seasons the club form Moscow suburbs signed Jon Mirasty, Jeremy Yablonski, Darcy Verot, Nathan Perrot, Brandon Sugden, Chris Simon, Josh Gratton and Kip Brennan. Simply put, KHL wasn’t happy with the way they performed on the ice and Vityaz was under the risk of being banned from the league.

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Apparently, now the league has changed its mind. Look no further for proof. This is a short list of players who are eligible to play in the KHL: Kevin Westgarth (Stanley Cup champion), Matt Cooke (Stanley Cup champion, 150+ games), Dan Carcillo (150+ games, Stanley Cup finalist), Jordin Tootoo (150+ games), Raffi Torres (Stanley Cup finalist), Chris Neil (Stanley Cup finalist), Maxim Lapierre (Stanley Cup finalist), Eric Boulton (Stanley Cup finalist) and many other guys like Zach Stortini who have 2-way contracts.

The rule about KHL experience is even more ludicrous. There are only so few current non-Russian NHLers who fall into this category: Mark Giordano (Flames), Jiri Hudler (Flames), Roman Cervenka (Flames), Leo Komarov (Leafs), Jaromir Jagr (Dallas), Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning), Brad Richards (Rangers), Dany Heatley (Wild), Patrick Elias (Devils), Petr Sykora (Devils), Andre Benoit (Senators) and Martin Havlat (Sharks).

Interestingly, they all meet other KHL criteria. Most of them played 150+ games in the past 3 seasons, some won a Stanley Cup and others have 2-way contracts. Whom does this rule serve to again?

While other criteria seem more or less adequate, it is still a mystery why KHL would come up with them to begin with. There are only 20 vacant spots for non-Russian players seeking a job in a Russian KHL club. There 2 more for non-Latvian in Riga, another 2 for non-Kazakh in Astana, 2 more for non-Belorussian in Minsk, 2 more for non-Czech in Prague and final 2 for non-Slovak in Bratislava.

Who in the right mind would sign a mediocre player when spots for import players on a roster are so scarce? Especially when they come somewhat cheap as KHL clubs can’t pay NHLers more than 65% of their contract according to the same document.

The List of NHL’ers in the KHL

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Evgeni Malkin (Michael Miller/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

So far there’s a lot of uncertainty about what non-Russian players will join KHL this season. However, here’s a list of players who have already opted to cross the pond. 

  • Evgeny Malkin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
  • Sergey Gonchar (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
  • Nikolai Kulemin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
  • Ilya Kovalchuk (SKA St. Petersburg)
  • Ruslan Fedotenko (Donbass Donetsk)
  • Alexei Ponikarovsky (Donbass Donetsk)
  • Lubomir Visnovsky (Slovan Bratislava)
  • Kaspars Daugavins (Dinamo Riga)
  • Nail Yakupov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk)
  • Jakub Voracek (Lev Praha)
  • Jiri Hudler (Lev Praha)
  • Mikhail Grabovski (Dinamo Minsk)
  • Anton Khudobin (Atlant)

Here’s a list of players who are expected to sign in the KHL within the next few days.

  • Alexander Ovechkin (Dynamo Moscow / CSKA)
  • Anton Volchenkov (TBD)
  • Anton Babchuk (TBD)
  • Alexander Burmistrov (Ak Bars)
  • Pavel Datsyuk (Avtomobilist / Ak Bars)
  • Vladimir Tarasenko (SKA St.Petersburg)
  • Andrei Loktionov (Atlant)
  • Vyacheslav Voynov (Traktor)
  • Alexander Semin (Lokomotiv)

Not so many import players, right? Let’s wait and see if it’s going to change in a week or two.


  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Yeah I don’t understand them leaving out 2-way contracts, then wanting only the top talent in the NHL to head over. It seems contradictory.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Way too spiffy expecting revenues to be the same post-lockout…crazy and disloyal. Truants! Truants!!
    I should’ve bet on Calvillo’s 40th B-day, even though I’m not big on milestone bdays myself. It is nice to be able to see great QBs play. With the new NFL generation, should be good for CFL too. I’d like to see the Mooseheads games and the EU leagues, at least the stacked matchups More Canada-Russia is welcome. The Canadian D weren’t nearly as good as I thought. Obviously Ryan Murphy. CHL could allow more overagers.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    It excludes players on two way deals who have been assigned to the AHL.

    In other words, no AHL’ers allowed. Any player on a two way who was not demoted before the lockout must be a pretty good player for his NHL club to desist from keeping him under control.

  • RexLibris

    Vityaz Chekhov may be the bad boys of the KHL, but man do they make some fun viewing on Youtube.

    They waited six seconds into the game before an entire line jumped the Avangrad Omsk players.

    Watch the one Chekhov player slide into the crease and then suckerpunch the goaltender. Nice stuff.

    Man I hope these guys stay very far away from Nail Yakupov.

    Say what you like about Stortini, he would’ve tried to score a goal, taken a penalty, and then just hugged his opponent into submission.

    • RexLibris

      Kudos to the protective instinct over Yakupov,I believe it is horrible managment of a career to jump to another pro league risking your health,as an athlete health is your number one concern EVERY DAY.

      This BS about staying sharp is a cover story.I dont buy it for a second.If your reflexes are that subjective to change in a few months you probably shouldnt be an athlete.If you cant max yourself out training with NHL caliber teammates what are you even doing in the league??

      And the damage you sustain due to not being sharp on a performance level after the labor dispute is the price you pay as individuals to support your labor cause.Players either want the money or want to assert themselves,either way it is a poor way to manage a career that is so intricately connected to your overall health.One injury and you have screwed yourself and the players association and the NHL are NOT GOING TO GET YOU YOUR CAREER BACK.

  • We can only hope that Babchuk makes a bad bet with some mobster and ends up sleeping with the fishes. Or, you know, broken knee caps / hard labor in a Siberian salt mine.

    Nail Yakupov (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk)

    That team name is a damn mouthful. I hope it’s easier to say in Russian than in English.

    Also, god help some of these players. After the Lokomotiv plane crash, I’d be crapping my pants every time any Russian plane hit a pocket of turbulence.

  • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

    Babchuk is one of only 2 good UFAs you can start NHL 08 with. I never upgrade my coaches. I’ve never watched the 2002 gold medal game. I had a good job that I left for a higher paying ter mposition, so I took the day of work and listened to on intercom….
    I’m going to watch that game with the lockout on. One of the line combos earlier was Lemieux, Yzerman, Sakic. I thought we were done for in the Finn game. I’ve never seen Selanne play so physical.
    Lemieux’s game evolved since 1987. Best passer by 2002. Those D all peaked in 2002, but not especially great. Rochefort and Patrick and Bourque just looked crappy. Coffey great, of course had Oiler chemistry advantage. Messier must’ve been so mad Norman took all those penalties.

  • RexLibris

    I thought after Grahame, even with less physical play, KHL wasn’t that desired. Isn’t NASCAR coming out with an electric car circuit? I could get into that.
    I remember when I got the Ryan Smyth and friends tickets and he cancelled. Boy did he miss two good Cup runs. Should start up a league with no head shots and shy shot block or fight? This is not happening. This is not happening.