Thursday, May 22, 2008

European league set for September face off

"We are planning to draft players from around the world, including the NHL," -- Continental Hockey League President Alexander Medvedev, outlining how his 24 team mostly Russian based league will stock up on its rosters for its debut season.

There's now one more bargaining chip for hockey players world wide as the much discussed and promised Continental Hockey League skates a little closer to its September debut.

The league, which is the main focus these days of the deputy chairman of Russia's most powerful corporation, energy giant OAO Gazprom will basically resemble the current Russian Super league, though with considerably more cash and led by the colourful and very wealthy Medvedev.

His eventual goal is to see the league expand to Sweden, Finland and other key European markets, though he has run into a bit of resistance from the locals there in his bid to redraw the European hockey map.

For the moment it will be primarily a Russian league, with two divisions eventually playing for the Gagarin Cup named after the famed Russian cosmonaut. The two finalists in that competition will then compete in a European Super League Champions final.

It indicates a growing sense of power from the Russian hockey world, which is determined to battle back against the NHL which has for the last number of years been siphoning off the cream of Russian hockey to come and play in North America. Medvedev hopes to begin repatriating those that have travelled afar and maybe lure one or two of the North American names over to their side of the ocean.

So far the flow of ex NHL talent is but a mere drop, with reports that Chris Simon and John Grahame are the first of the North Americans to sign up with the new league.

With a salary cap conscious NHL now having to keep an eye on the bottom lines, there is a potential for some high profile defections, though truth be told North Americans aren't particularly as adventurous internationally as the European wave on our shores has shown. Most of the top paid NHLers will most likely use the new league as a bargaining statement more than anything else, extract a bit more money from their NHL team and remain in the NHL.

There will no doubt be some growing pains for the new league, but once they have a few seasons out of the way and the buzz begins to spread about their venture, there very well may be a major change to the way your favourite NHL teams roster looks over the next few years...

Globe and Mail-- New Russian-based league flexes its muscles
Canadian Press-- New Russian hockey league aims to develop, improve hockey worldwide
Sportsnet-- Russian league to launch in September
CBC Sports-- New Russian hockey league set to launch
Russia Today-- Russia to set up new Euro-league

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