The KHL World Games recently took place in Zűrich, Switzerland. Many influential European hockey officials were in attendance.
Switzerland is familiar to the KHL and its clubs. Especially Russian KHL teams that travel to the country for training camps every off-season. KHL clubs always participate at the Spengler Cup in Davos. Additionally, Metallurg Magnitogorsk will spend upcoming Christmas time in the Alpine country as well.
Dinamo Riga lost two games to both opponents, SKA St.Petersburg and CSKA Moscow. Except for ordinary hockey fans, who had a unique opportunity to watch KHL games live, there was also European hockey officials from various countries in attendance.
The IIHF President René Fasel dropped the ceremonial first puck at the opening game. “This is something special for Switzerland, the KHL came to us. This is a good step for the league to introduce itself to Europe,“ he said.
— KHL (@khl_eng) November 30, 2018
Four Potential New Participants
“Switzerland is an interesting market for us, and probably one of the toughest to crack because hockey in this country is already at a high level. These games out on tour help us to conduct research and explore new markets, we’re gaining priceless feedback from this,” said the KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko.
He also added, “as for the prospects of new countries in the KHL, there has to be a two-way agreement between the local hockey federation and the league. Switzerland is not one of the countries that is high on our list at the moment – there are other places where work has progressed further. At the moment we are in talks with four potential new participants and once we have all the necessary documentation in place, we might be able to make an official announcement.”
It is understandable the KHL is not willing to confirm the names. This same policy we have seen before in the negotiations with Jokerit Helsinki. There were rumours about the Espoo Blues joining the KHL a year or two before Jokerit’s announcement. It is not beneficial to announce the details before a deal is done.
KHL Clubs Visiting Great Britain
We can speculate who are the four potential new participants. And we can rely on a statement of the hockey officials.
There is an agreement in place that KHL clubs will visit Great Britain to challenge Great Britain (GB) men’s ice hockey team.
“Our national team promoted to top group for the first time in 25 years and we struggled with finding opponents for preparation. We have an agreement that three KHL clubs will come to us in April, one of these games would be held in Sheffield” said Andy French, the General Secretary of the Ice Hockey UK.
The British side has already announced the schedule. Dinamo Riga will travel to Coventry to meet Team GB on February 6. The KHL scheduled only one game on this date, Admiral Vladivostok hosting the Kunlun Red Star. An international break starts the next day. Dinamo Riga plays in Bratislava on February 4. Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod will travel to the UK and will challenge Team GB, in Nottingham on April 27. Sheffield will host a back-to-back game the next day.
The Gagarin Cup Final Game 7 will take place, if necessary, on April 25.
“We’re working on bringing KHL game in France, and we have a question why don’t (we) create a team here,” said Luc Tardif, the President of the France Ice Hockey Federation.
It has been known for a few months that Great Britain and France have been considering the KHL’s expansion. The next logical step is to organise the KHL World Games in those countries. They are not alone as Germany are also interested.
Let’s Promote Hockey Together
“Many German fans would like to watch a KHL game live. And I believe, it will happen. We can promote a game in Germany, it could be Cologne, Düsseldorf or Hamburg, where there is an amazing arena without a tenant in recent years. The game of hockey is the greatest game on Earth, so let us promote hockey together,” said Franz Reindl, the President of the German Ice Hockey Association.
Reindl’s words were in the Russian media but it is not a binding proposal where a German KHL club would work. It is not clear what he exactly meant. My understanding after reading the Russian press is he talked about a German team for the KHL, leading to the German Ice Hockey Association correcting the statement on Twitter as is shown below.
There is a missunderstanding in the last sentence. Our president Franz Reindl said: "We should work on a German GAME (not team), it could be located anywhere – Köln, Düsseldorf, Hamburg or another city." ?
— Deutscher Eishockey-Bund (@deb_teams) November 30, 2018
A German Destination
Let us think about a hypothetical expansion to Germany. We can use Reindl’s words as a starting point. Cologne is the 4th biggest German city behind Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Düsseldorf is in 7th place. Cologne and Düsseldorf are the biggest cities of the North Rhine-Westphalia. According to the German Census in 2011 and over 350 000 people of Russian heritage lived in the North Rhine-Westphalia at the time.
The KHL is an international league with a central office in Moscow. Naturally, the league would do fine in the region where the Russian minority has a strong position. Based on demography, Berlin, Mannheim, Munich and even Hamburg should be taken into consideration.
KHL Careful Not to Kill Home Country Leagues
All mentioned cities have a top-notch arena and a world-class transport infrastructure. Except for Hamburg, all cities have a DEL team. It remains to be seen if a DEL and a KHL club would co-work in one arena. Of course, depending on if there is a new club joining the KHL. The best solution would be if a DEL club joined the league. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want the KHL to ‘kill’ a hockey league in Germany or anywhere in Europe. And the KHL does not want this to happen at home either.
The KHL has experience with two clubs sharing one arena. Lev Prague and Sparta Prague played in one arena, Lev playing the KHL and Sparta participating in the Czech league. Both clubs had the same owner. It was really complicated to schedule the games of both clubs and fans were not happy. Sparta’s die-hard fans did not attend Lev’s games and the fans recruited from neutral hockey followers, became Lev’s fans, did not attend Sparta’s games. It is obvious that two teams from various leagues cannot live together under one roof for a long time.
More News to Come
Chernyshenko talked about four potential new participants. We can guess, and it is just pure speculation, they are teams from Germany, France and Great Britain. The last country is not known. A team might be located in Europe and even in Asia. Japan and South Korea come to mind. When analysing, a club from Japan is more likely.
We can’t get our hopes up with Chernyshenko’s statement that four teams will join the KHL. Only one, two or maybe none may join. A team might join next year or later, but nothing is guaranteed. All depends on many factors, including non-hockey related issues.
Everything written above is my personal analysis. We need to wait for upcoming news to confirm or deny those words. The KHL GMs meeting is traditionally scheduled for December. All final decisions on expansion have always been done during the KHL play-off. There are some interesting times ahead of us my friends.
Feature Image Credit: Photo by Stephan Woldron/SEPA.Media /Getty Images