The year is now 2008. Jaromir Jagr, one of the NHL's most recognizable superstars, bolts to a wintery outpost in a new league for a ridiculous amount of money.
That likely is were the comparison ends, however.
Back in 1972 Hull joined the Winnipeg Jets of the WHA, legitimizing the new league. Derek Sanderson, Gerry Cheevers, J.C. Tremblay, and others soon followed suit. The WHA was a considerable threat to the NHL for the first 3 or 4 years of it's existence, but would crumble due to bad finances. But not before significantly impacting hockey forever.
Now in 2008 the Russian's new KHL (Continental Hockey League, with the K representing Russian spelling, which replaces the former Super-League) has finally reeled in it's big NHL fish, after failing noticeably to attract top home-grown talent such as Alexander Ovechkin, and Evgeni Malkin.
So will NHL talent now start fleeing for Russia, where billionaire owners are throwing around huge salaries, which are essentially tax free? Will Jaromir Jagr do for the KHL what Bobby Hull did for the WHA?
Not likely, says Detroit general manager Ken Holland.
"Anybody with any competitive juices wants to play with and against the best players in the world, in the best league in the world. And it [the NHL] is an established league.
"These other leagues, maybe 10 years from now, after they've got their footing, it may be different. But right now, this is the best league in the world. Why wouldn't you want to be involved in the best league in the world?"
Mind you, no one gave the WHA much of a chance back in 1972 either.
But, despite the presence of the spend-happy billionaire owners, the KHL is not in a position to compete with the NHL. At least with the traditional business model.
Russian teams have new arenas, but most seat around 8000-10000 spectators, with limited luxury seating. And ticket prices are said to be incredibly low. Canadian coach Dave King, who coach in Metallurg in 2005-06, said tickets were $5 a piece.That is no way to run a sustainable business that would challenge the National Hockey League. But the billionaire Russian owners don't seem to care much about profits. They make more than enough in the oil fields and commodity mines. They are happy to subsidize their hockey toys. And who knows, maybe they'll be willing to spend even more cash to improve their infrastructure.
Jagr's jumping to the KHL probably won't have near the impact that Bobby Hull's defection to the WHA did. But it will be interesting to watch this story develop over the coming years.
For an interesting look at life in the former Russian Super League, check out this NHL lock out piece from Dirk Shadd of the St. Pete Times.