NHL suspends relationship with KHL as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affects hockey world
Nearly two weeks after Russia first invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the fallout from that military action is being felt across the hockey world.
On Monday, the NHL suspended the execution of its memorandum of understanding with Russia’s top professional circuit, the Continental Hockey League. According to a report by Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff, a memo to NHL general managers asked teams to “immediately cease all dealings [direct or indirect] with KHL and KHL clubs [and all representatives of both]as well as with players’ agents based and continuing to do business in Russia.
The KHL started the season as a 24-team league in six countries – 19 teams in Russia and one in Belarus, Kazakhstan, Finland, Latvia and China. Due to the global pandemic, the Chinese team, Kunlun Red Star, has been playing in the suburbs of Moscow for two years.
The KHL roster is made up mostly of Russian players, but also includes nationals of non-Russian teams and players from other European nations, the United States and Canada.
In pre-pandemic times, the KHL’s 62-game regular season ran from early September to late February, with playoffs in March and April. This year, plans to end the regular season after the Olympic winter break were scrapped in mid-February, with 45-50 games on the books. The Gagarin Cup qualifiers have been brought forward to start on March 1 and are now underway.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, two clubs announced that they were withdrawing from the league. Finland-based Jokerit was in the knockout position; Latvia-based Dinamo Riga were not.
Some non-Russian players have also chosen to leave their teams, at the risk of losing their salaries. That list includes former NHL forward Markus Granlund, one of the KHL’s top 20 scorers this year who is coming off an Olympic gold medal with Finland, and Nick Shore, a 2022 U.S. Olympian.
The suspension of business with the KHL will make life more difficult for NHL general managers who were looking to recruit free agents from outside Russia or bring in their own prospects. As an example, Ivan Fedotov had a strong performance for Russia at the Olympics and would be in the final year of his KHL contract with CSKA Moscow. Now 25, Fedotov was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the seventh round in 2015, and it is believed the organization now has an interest in signing him and bringing him to North America.
In Monday’s memo from the NHL, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league intends to honor players’ contractual status in the KHL, as it has done in the past. But verifying this information will now be more difficult.
Many KHL players interested in playing in North America hire an additional agent to handle their business outside of Russia. NHL teams are authorized to deal with certified NHL player agents who represent KHL or Russian players.
The sanctions imposed on Russia following the invasion could also have an impact on the prospects who hoped to be drafted in Montreal in July. NHL Central Scouting’s 2022 Midterm Draft prospect rankings include three Russian players among Europe’s top 10 skaters and two goaltenders among Europe’s top 10 goaltenders.
If a player is already part of their organization, he or his North American representative can communicate freely with his NHL team, whether or not he currently plays in a North American league.
It is unclear at this stage whether work visas or player travel could be affected, and to what extent, if the conflict in Ukraine continues.
Last week, the NHL released a statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for a peaceful resolution as soon as possible. He also announced that the league was suspending relations with business partners in Russia and suspending its social and digital media sites in Russian.
On February 28, the International Ice Hockey Federation suspended Russia and Belarus from all levels of competition until further notice and stripped Russia of their duties as hosts of the 2023 World Junior Championship. take place in two Siberian cities, Novosibirsk and Omsk, with a new 10,000-seat arena being built in Novosibirsk for the occasion.
Upcoming IIHF events that will take place without Russian and/or Belarusian teams include the Men’s Under-18 World Championship in Germany (April 21-May 1), the Men’s World Championship in Finland (April 13-29 May), the World Women’s Under-18 Championship (United States, date TBD this summer), the postponed 2022 World Junior Men’s Championship (Edmonton, date TBD this summer) and the 2022 World Women’s Championship ( Denmark, August 26 – September 4).
No details have yet been provided on which teams will be promoted to fill the now empty tournament places, or how ranking, promotion and relegation will be affected.