The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/09/11 at 05:26 AM ET
If you weren’t already aware of the KHL’s status as a de-facto political entity—its president, SKA St. Petersburg GM Alexander Medvedev, happens to be the deputy chairman of the board of Gazprom, the world’s largest natural gas provider, and Gazprom Export, the KHL’s biggest sponsor, is controlled by the Russian government. Add into the fact that Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, is from St. Petersburg and brought many of his pals from the St. Petersburg KGB along to Moscow, including former chairman of Gapzrom’s board and current president Dmitry Medvedev, and that Putin happens to be a big hockey fan, and sprinkle in the fact that the old Soviet sport bureau chiefs still play a big role in the Russian oligarchs’ big boys’ toys that are KHL franchises, and you’ve got a political entity that happens to exist as a sports league.
If that’s too convoluted for you, per Sports.ru’s Artem Zyryanov, Putin spoke to his official blog, “Epicenter,” about the KHL, stating that the league was his creation, and was and is designed to be a counterweight to and direct competitor of the NHL. What follows is a rough translation of four points from a 20-questions style interview:
On Creation: I’ll reveal a tremendous secret: I have not only supported the it, but I also initiated and created the KHL. Because it seemed to me that after a the standoff—in a good sense of the word—between North American and Soviet hockey, ice hockey had [become a sport] that was lost, lost visually and lost in terms of interest. The World Championships are still interesting, and so in principle, I tried to “spot” what was coming. It’s interesting, of course, to see how our players play in the NHL, but I don’t know…May God grant them good health, I’m very proud of htem. But there’s something that was missing, and when there’s something missing, there’s grain to work with.
The plans: I would like the KHL to, in general, become a pan-European hockey league that’s expanded its borders into Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, in Switzerland—wherever there are good teams. And so it would become a full-fledged hockey league on the European continent. Without any of our political and administrative domination[...] in fact, it’s only a matter of money. And if this can be done, then I think that the hockey world can be reborn. And interest in it will increase many times over.
About the foes from the NHL: If the NHL takes all the best players, like a vacuum cleaner, sucking them into itself, then the NHL, maybe it’s interesting to watch, but in the rest of the world, remaining interest in hockey would be wasted. Of course it’s, perhaps curious, that Slovakia sees that their athletes are playing well in the NHL. Yes, the game’s well-played. But we all want to see that our own teams are good in Russia, and that Slovakia has its own [players], and the Czech Republic has their own, and Finland their own, in Sweden and Germany, their own—and that’s the only way to raise the level of hockey in the world.
Principles: We can’t encourage KHL teams that are underfunded, unfortunately, because we need them to get to a certain level—high, so that you can pay proper salaries to players—that aren’t worse than the NHL has achieved, and so on. This requires, of course, money. But I think it would be better for everyone. You know, I proposed this project, but I don’t want it to be purely Russian. I want it to be a shared project that was created in Europe to establish a continental model, a league that can fight and compete on equal footing with the NHL. I will repeat myself: I’m sure that this can only benefit worldwide hockey.
About support: The KHL isn’t just a sports project. This project allows us to seriously think about restoring a single humanitarian space in former Soviet territory, because it will unite people from former Soviet republics to come together on the basis of common interest in hockey. And in the Soviet Union, hockey was very popular.
Now you know why Igor Larionov wasn’t willing to become the general manager of the Russian hockey team for the 2014 Olympics, and why the KHL will find a way to stack its roster to win when the 2016 World Championships are held in St. Petersburg and Moscow. The orders come from the very top, and failure is not acceptable.
And if it’s a little bit worrisome to hear an incredibly powerful man talk about building a Warsaw Pact of professional hockey, gobbling up other European professional leagues’ teams, even taking into account the fact that the NHL is equally merciless, the concept’s worrisome because Putin’s proposal is indeed a scary proposition.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.