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THE FAR SIDE OF THE POND: Cold War on Ice: Back to the Good Old Days?

09/30/2008 2:58 PM

Article By: Mike Peck

By Chad Huebner

So I’m watching the first presidential debate between Barack Obama and John McCain (otherwise known as the “Did not! DID TOO!” presidential race) and the issue of what to do with Russia came up. Basically, the question was: In light of the past year’s recent events, are we (that’s us as in U.S.) headed towards another Cold War with the Russkies?

Well, I dunno if are in the political world, but in the hockey world, we might already be there.

By now, you’ve probably heard of the KHL (Kontinential Hockey League. . . their spelling, not mine). It replaces the Russia Super League, which was basically No. 2 to NHL’s No. 1 status in the world. But in addition to the 20 clubs from the old RSL, the KHL also has four other clubs, three of which hail from outside Russia. There are plans for the KHL to eventually expand to 30 teams, offering invitations to some of the supreme clubs in Europe. 

If the threat of a rival super league to the NHL wasn’t enough, the KHL has also effectively lured some top talent here in North America to play in the new league, such Sergei Brylin, Jozef Stumpfel and Ray Emery.

(Wait a minute, Ray Emery? On second thought, we’re more than happy to get him out of this continent.)

But the names don’t get much bigger than one Jaromir Jagr, signed by Avgard Omsk in July. He stated that eventually, he would like to finish his career playing at his father’s club, HC Kladno, a Czech Republic club.

Now, there is a standing agreement that was signed by the KHL and the NHL back in July where both leagues would honor the other’s contracts. We’ll just have to see if both sides will keep their word.

If it seems like I’m taking an ominous tone with all of this, it’s that, maybe, I wish there was a bit of bad blood between the two leagues. Maybe we’re better off with another Cold War on our hands. At least the first time around, and despite all the cloak and dagger stuff we knew who our enemy was: the Big Bad Bear across the World. Nowadays, it’s all about terrorists and separate cells and shadowy leaders that hide in caves for years and years. It’s no “fun” anymore. No “Falcon and the Snowman”. No “Red Dawn”. No “Rocky IV”. No “The Day After”. No. . . sorry, I ran out of U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. movies.

I mean, if it wasn’t for the Cold War, would “The Miracle on Ice” hold so much meaning for us Americans? Would it have been even considered a “Miracle” in the first place? I guess it would have still been considered a monumental upset, but that’s it.

Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised if both sides, especially the KHL, who probably want to gain equal footing with the NHL, are fast and loose locking up the best talent in the world. That scenario reminds of the last time that happened in pro sports. You had the National Football League, the long-standing bastion of pro football. And then you had the American Football League, the new upstarts, the ones who were shut out of admittance to the NFL, and thus challenged the old establishment for control of the pro football world. The AFL did this by basically trying to outbid the NFL for every available talent, generating a power struggle in hopes of making the NFL finally surrender. The end result? The entire AFL merges with the NFL to become the NFL we know and love today. . . err, umm, when we’re not dutifully watching hockey, the best winter sport there is, of course!

(There would be, of course, a difference between a Hockey Cold War in this era compared to the previous one, and that is it’d be between the leagues, not so much the players themselves. Back in the day, players from North America and the old U.S.S.R. really had it in for each other. I mean, it’s the best athletes from the best superpowers competing, why wouldn’t there be some hot tempered blood? But this time around, we’re used to the idea of Russian-based hockey players playing in the NHL without having to defect, as well as having North American players play overseas because someone wants them (and the extra cash doesn’t hurt either). This intermingling of hockey talent tends to dilute the “Us vs. Them” factor in head-to-head matchups.)

So if such a situation erupts between the two leagues, is there a chance at peace, a “hockey glasnost” if you will?

Well, one idea is to do what the NFL and AFL did over 40 years ago, and that’s merge the two leagues. This is much more ambitious than what the NHL has been proposing for a while, and that is add a European Division to the league. We could have an interlocking schedule, whereby the NHL and KHL clubs play 10 games against each other. The travel hassles will be minimal, and if this works out well, perhaps the leagues could expand the inter-league schedule further down the road.

Another is to have no interlocking schedule and just have the champs of the NHL and the champs of the KHL meet in a winner-take-all series for a true world’s championship. And you thought the Summit Series was big. . .

In any case, European expansion by the NHL will happen at some point in our lifetime. . . perhaps only a little bit sooner than having astronauts on Mars, but it’s still something. It’s just that maybe the NHL would be better off to achieve some sort of peace with the KHL now, to avoid the eventual bidding wars for the best talent in the world. We could probably due without a Cold War that has a literal meaning.

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