Fetisov's global plan for KHL could shake up NHL

Viacheslav Fetisov (right), seen here posing with the Stanley Cup alongside fellow Russian-born New...

Viacheslav Fetisov (right), seen here posing with the Stanley Cup alongside fellow Russian-born New Jersey Devils' (left to right) Alexander Mogilny, Vladimir Malakhov, Sergei Brylin and Sergei Nemchinov, would like to see the KHL expand across Europe and Asia. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters/Files)

SLAVA MALAMUD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:55 PM ET

Viacheslav Fetisov is an NHL legend, in more ways than one.

But his accomplishments during his playing career, both on and off the ice, pale in comparison to his global vision for the game -- a scheme that would have Gary Bettman's knees quaking.

During the 1980s, Fetisov -- as the captain of CSKA Moscow and the USSR national team -- used his enormous popularity to win a standoff with politicians for the rights of Soviet players, himself included, to play in North America.

After arriving in the NHL in 1989, Fetisov had a successful nine-year career as a defenceman with the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings, winning two Stanley Cups as a player. He won another Cup in 2000 as an assistant coach with the Devils and landed a well-deserved spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But if Fetisov were to have his way, the NHL as we know it would be no more.

Formerly the head of the Russian government's Federal Physical Culture and Sports Agency, and currently a member of the Federation Council (the upper chamber of Russia's legislature), Fetisov has joined the swelling ranks of the Mother Country's hockey figures who are offering promises of vanquishing the North American foe.

Fetisov, who was elected to the Russian Senate from an eastern constituency, is working on bringing a KHL franchise to the Pacific city of Vladivostok, to be based in a new building, fittingly named Fetisov Hall.

Ultimately, Fetisov, 54, dreams of creating the KHL's Far Eastern division by expanding the league into China, Korea and Japan, he told Sport-Express in an interview.

The KHL already features teams from the Czech Republic and Slovakia, with Italy scheduled to join next year, and Fetisov says the league should push ahead with a global-domination strategy.

In the interview, in which he calls NHL commissioner Bettman "a local lord-ling" and proposes to offer the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin "material incentives" to stay in the KHL, Fetisov envisions a hockey universe no longer dominated by the North American league. He thinks that if $1 billion were offered immediately to the NHL's brightest locked-out stars, it would create an exodus of players into the KHL that would pound Bettman into submission.

Most importantly, he sees a single global hockey enterprise, with tight regulations on player transfers, an annual showdown between the Stanley Cup and Gagarin Cup champions for the world bragging rights, and a unified calendar which would accommodate semi-annual slots for the Olympics and the World Cup with the best players participating for their national teams.

Before you dismiss Fetisov's talk of the Global Hockey League as a pipe dream or a delusional rant, consider the fact that back in the early 2000s it was he who first introduced an idea of the North American hockey model in Russia. Back then, his proposed Euro-Asian Hockey League was called exactly that, a pipe dream.

But a few years later, pretty much the same exact project was launched as the Kontinental Hockey League, when Russian President Vladimir Putin empowered his close ally and enthusiast of the game, Alexander Medvedev, to reshape the hockey landscape. Fetisov, in recognition of his vision, became the KHL's president of the board of directors, a position he resigned from last year. Many elements of the current KHL, including the modified player draft and the salary cap, were Fetisov's ideas.

While his tough talk and loud pronouncements seem to be in line with the political climate in Russia, there is no denying that Fetisov is a fan of the American approach to amateur and professional sports. His ideas do include more down-to-earth projects.

One is developing Russia's high school and college sports as a feeder system to the professional leagues and an alternative to the Soviet-style setup, where pro clubs run their own youth programs, free of charge but with limited participation. These projects have their share of detractors, too, but Fetisov, who is in charge of the newly created Russian Amateur Hockey League, ploughs on. He is used to being called a dreamer and loves proving people wrong. Maybe, local lord-ling Bettman should take heed of his global domination plans.

KOVALCHUK, YAKUPOV STAR

Being an NHL superstar apparently does count for something, after all.

The KHL has named its list of players of the month for October and the New Jersey Devils' most recognizable employee not named Martin Brodeur was on it. Ilya Kovalchuk was chosen forward of the month after getting 21 points in 13 games and being a plus-10. The SKA St. Petersburg captain plays on a line with St. Louis Blues draftee Vladimir Tarasenko and former Phoenix Coyotes prospect Viktor Tikhonov in what is being called the best three-man unit in the league.

Kovalchuk also continued his line of sabre-rattling statements, saying if he were to spend the entire season in the KHL, he would "only win from it."

Edmonton Oiler-to-be Nail Yakupov was rookie of the Month with 10 goals and four assists in 11 games.

THREE MILLION

The sum, in dollars, of SKA St. Petersburg's gate receipts through the season, according to club vice-president Roman Rotenberg, who was interviewed by the Russian edition of Forbes Magazine. SKA is the league's richest club and usually boasts the best attendance figures among Russian-based teams. Jersey sales amount to about $1 million more. Rotenberg says SKA earns enough money to pay for its operating budget "except for the player salaries" -- something no other Russian-based club can claim. TV rights don't amount to much. Channel NTV+, which has the league's broadcasting rights, and SKA belong to the same state-owned gas giant, Gazprom, so the deal amounts to putting money from one pocket of the same coat into the other.


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