With Europe at its doorstep, the KHL is a real threat

DENIS POISSANT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 1:19 PM ET

MOSCOW -- Alexander Medvedev doesn't back down to anyone in his battle with the NHL. There's no question the KHL president, who doubles as a director of as Gazprom, Russia's natural gas monopoly, is a man with a long to-do list.

His first priority is exporting gas. But in this spare time, he's building a professional hockey league. But then there's the imploding economy to fix and a dispute with NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly over Alexander Radulov's contract after he left the Nashville Predators for the KHL.

In addition to collecting $2 billion from the Ukraine in unpaid gas bills, there's convincing local officials in different cities to get involved with teams, sort out sponsorship problems and get TV coverage.

And the list isn't done. The recession is taking a toll in Russia, where a spectacular economic rise (salaries went up 25% a year in the past five years) was mostly due to oil and metal product exports.

It's a rough time for some teams, especially in the industrial cities of the south. The ruble keeps plunging and some players haven't had a paycheque in weeks.

There's talk in the change rooms these days, rumours of pay cuts coming next year. A player's association was just started. Medvedev isn't out of the woods yet.

But his determination and the government's involvement means the league will probably weather this storm.

As it stands, the KHL is a real threat to the NHL. Commissioner Gary Bettman would be better off taking note instead of shrugging his shoulders and pushing expansion in the U.S. It's a world market and Russia fully intends to get in on the action.

Some KHL clubs may not survive in the long term, but this is still the league's first season. We should see it as a test. And who knows? Instead of little Russian towns that can't keep up to the pack, places such as Berlin, Prague, Stockholm or Helsinki could soon join the KHL. Or maybe Tokyo and Beijing.


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