In the summer of 2008 Nashville Predators forward Alexander Radulov left his contract, with one year remaining, to play with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL.
The coup raised concern, leading to an investigation by the International Ice Hockey League.
A renewed cold war lasted for more than two years until KHL commissioner Aleksandr Medvedev signed a formal agreement on Oct. 4, 2010 with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. The deal determined that both pro leagues honour each other’s contracts and that only free agents were allowed to go from the NHL to the KHL and vice versa.
In an interview with ESPN.com, Medvedev said, “This agreement confirms the validity of the KHL contracts and is in compliance with hockey industry standards.”
Radulov is not the only former NHLer to leave North America for the league that got its start in 2008.
Canadian Chris Simon, former San Jose Sharks defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh, St. Louis Blue alum Pavol Demitra and ex-Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Karri Ramo all play in the fledgling league.
With the league predominantly Russian, there is one team in Latvia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Slovakia for a total of 24 teams in four divisions. During the 2010 season, 469 players were Russian born, while 25 Canadians took to the ice, including Simon, who captained Vityaz Chekhov in Chekhov, Russia.
The first game took place Sept. 2, 2008. All teams vie for the Gagarin Cup, named for the famous cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. The most recent winner was Salavat Yulaev Ufa, who won over Atlant Moscow Oblast 4–1.
Much like the NHL the league is split into two conferences: Eastern and Western.
In the Eastern there are the Chernyshev and Kharlamov divisions. The former is named for former Dynamo Moscow head coach Arkady Chernyshev while the latter is named for legendary forward and 1972 Summit Series star Valeri Kharlamov.
The Western Conference features the Tarasov and Bobrov divisions. Much like the east, these are named for famous Russian sports heroes. The “father of Russian hockey” Anatoli Tarasov and Soviet Union gold medalist Vsevolod Bobrov are the honoured ice denizens.
Radulov has made a big impact. He holds the regular season record for points with 80 (20 goals, 60 assists), while former NHLers Jan Marek (drafted by New York Rangers), Pavel Brendl (Phoenix Coyotes) and Marcel Hossa (Montreal Canadiens) share the record for goals at 35.
Not surprising, the career record holder for penalty in minutes from 2008–2011 is a Canadian. Darcy Verot, who played 37 games in a Washington Capitals uniform after several minor league seasons in Pittsburgh and Calgary, has amassed 724 PIMs with Vityaz Chekhov. In the 2009–10 season alone he had 374 minutes in the sin bin.
It should be noted that he signed with Chekhov prior to the creation of the KHL, when the squad was in the Russian Superleague or RSL.
Though it’s only heading into its fourth season, the KHL will be equal to the NHL within five years, Medvedev said in a Russia Today interview in May, 2009.
“The synthesis of the players from the Russian league and the NHL — this is what we have dreamed of for many years,” he said.
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