from Alexei Bayer of The Moscow Times,
Even though the NHL is still the most prestigious hockey competition, hockey in North America is in crisis. The NHL has been convulsed by regular strikes and player lockouts. But there are deeper problems. In North America, hockey is played on narrow rinks, where big, fast defensemen make it very difficult to skate. Goal cages are too small for huge goalies wearing wide light-weight equipment. With the exception of the four-on-four overtime, NHL games have turned into boring, grinding, low-scoring contests between huge men on skates elbowing each other along the boards. No wonder it is the least popular of the four major team sports in the U.S.
"European" hockey is played on wider surfaces. It is a beautiful, swift game where skating and passing are at a premium. It certainly has a better chance to win worldwide following — if only it can get the right leadership.
Russia is uniquely positioned to provide such leadership. Hockey stars are, along with hydrocarbons and weapons, its only world-class export. In 2008, Russia used its bulk and resources to form a Eurasian league, the KHL, which next year will have teams from 7 neighboring countries, including some hockey powerhouses. A team from Vladivostok will also enter the competition. This may become a gateway to the Far East, and professional clubs may be soon organized in Japan, South Korea, China and even Alaska. American kids, for example, started playing hockey long after NHL clubs appeared in U.S. cities.
What Russia needs is to view the KHL as a purely commercial undertaking and not a national one. It should pattern its business model on the NHL. As matters now stand, the KHL is excessively Russia-centered. Even its main trophy, the Gagarin Cup, has nothing to do with hockey and everything with Russia's chip-on-the-shoulder nationalism and outdated patriotism.