For most of us, the primary (or even only) question regarding Alexander Radulov’s return is how it affects the competitive balance of the NHL. Does it make the Nashville Predators a Stanley Cup contender? Are the Detroit Red Wings/whoever faces them in the first round really in trouble?
Yet there’s a question that’s often getting overlooked in all this: what happens to the KHL?
The New York Times’ Jeff Z. Klein examines the fallout, pondering Russian writer’s Vladimir Mozgovoi question that losing Radulov might mean losing the “face” of the league.
Certainly the K.H.L. has put Russian domestic hockey on firmer ground than it has been in quite a long time. The league is slicker and more fan-friendly than any of its predecessors in Russian or Soviet domestic hockey. The rinks are bigger and newer. It has ended the mass exodus of young Russian prospects to the N.H.L.; no longer can an N.H.L. club hope to get an Evgeni Malkin or an Alex Ovechkin for a mere $200,000.
But the K.H.L.’s bigger dreams of four years ago have gone the way of Russia’s bigger dreams, tempered now by economic realities. Gone are the days when a veteran star like Jagr, or a young star like Radulov, would go to Russia and not look back.
Even with that mostly grim outlook, the league has had its moments. Running a scenic outdoor All-Star Game at Red Square in 2009? That’s ambitious stuff.
Obviously those dreams need to be reined in a bit, but if the KHL can learn some lessons and maintain patience, they might be onto something as the second biggest professional hockey league in the world. The 2011-12 season certainly provided some harsh lessons, though.