William Houston recently had an interesting piece about the future of major league hockey in Europe. He insists the NHL needs to move into Europe real soon, because the Russian KHL is likely to infiltrate the rest of Europe creating a Pan-European top level hockey league, possibly with in the next 24 months.
A cross-continent KHL may be the best thing for the future of hockey.
Most North American fans are oblivious to the fact the future of European hockey is not as healthy as we believe. Europe does not have the infrastructure to support NHL-style economics, even with the favorable Euro-exchange rate. And even the mighty KHL is mostly bankrolled by Andrei Medvedev's oil money.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are now entering a generation of hockey drought. There are few new stars replacing the aging current generation, as years of financial neglect have plagued these countries in post-communist times. Hockey is quickly being replaced by broom ball as the non-soccer sport of choice.
The Russians are not all that far removed from their own similar lean times. A big reason for their revival has been the success of the KHL, keeping talent in Russia and attracting former stars back home. A strong homeland hockey scene is the key ingredient in creating a vibrant hockey culture in any country. It gives the coming generations hope, pride in their country, and something to strive for. The result is a much stronger hockey nation.
Sweden and Finland are not in the same boat as these other three, although they too would strongly benefit from stronger elite leagues able to retain homegrown talent. They could not support NHL teams right now. Do they have deep enough pockets to compete against the Russia billionaires of the KHL?
There is only one European market that could one day possibly support a NHL-style financial model, and that is Germany. They have the big stadiums and deep pockets and potentially good fan support. But the Germans have done a terrible job in investing in homeland hockey programs, remaining a second tier hockey nation. They would rather import other nation's players than develop their own.
This is where the IIHF should be more proactive, helping these countries develop stronger hockey programs and home leagues. But the IIHF is only interested in feeding their own pay cheques and bottom lines. In many ways the IIHF is the worst thing for international hockey.
So here's hoping Andrei Medvedev can get his Pan-European hockey league going. The best thing for all of hockey would be to have a strong European league in some level of competition with the NHL. Everyone, from the the European nations to the players to the NHL and especially international hockey, benefits greatly.
IIHF has been a lame duck for several decades. I do not expect anything good coming out of it. Russians are, at least ambitious. Although it reminds me how totalitarian regimes built a state religion around sports.
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