The Continental Hockey League Is A Curious Thing Indeed

It’ll be interesting to see how things play out in the next few years regarding the new Russian Continental Hockey League. They’ve now wooed a trickle of players there, Alexander Radulov being the latest, before that, Jaromir Jagr and others, and they welcome with open arms those who’ve basically worn out their welcome in the NHL such as Chris Simon and Ray Emery.


This is a league about to begin play in September, and is the blossoming flower that has emerged from the wilted Russian Elite League. It’s a league with money, thanks to a Russia that went from a penniless nation to a filthy rich empire, all because businessmen learned how to become capitalists and how Russian oil barons clued in on how to make lots of money with a product the rest of the world already knew what to do with.


Players in the past, Alexander Mogilny, Pavel Bure, Sergei Federov, etc., said goodbye to friends and family a couple of decades ago because they saw players in North America, often with lesser talent, making hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions, while they toiled under the tired mess in their homeland for maybe $200 a month if they were lucky.


Eventually, every great young Russian player made his way to the NHL, and we thought they most definitely are enjoying an upgrade in quality of life compared to the old country.


But players are starting to go back, because the money offered by the new league seems as silly as it is in the NHL. Which brings us to the real question: If this league is for real, how many Russian players will be left in the NHL in a few years from now?


Of course it’s natural that players will return to their roots, to what they know, to their families and their familiar foods and language.


But it goes beyond all of that. As I’ve said in older posts, I’ve been to Russia six or seven times, and I see, albeit maybe just scratching the surface, what life is like there. And in general, it’s not a pretty picture.


Rich hockey players will have nice apartments, but they still have to go outside. Russia’s not a clean country. It’s not an overly friendly place, especially in shops and subways. It’s not a safe place, it’s important to leave your wallet and passport hidden. Russian people there and here, including my wife, will attest to all of this.


And gypsies and low-life’s in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and other big cities where teams in the Continental Hocky League are based would love to meet rich, young hockey players in back alleys, or in bars after the player has had a few drinks.


Maybe most importanly, and dangerously, there’s the Russian mafia, who have their dirty hands in every kiosk and shop, and under-the-table payments to these criminals by struggling shopkeepers is the norm. If a storeowner says no to them, chances are their shop is burned to the ground, or worse. And the police are often in cahoots with these people, and turn the other way.


Rich hockey players will be like gold to these people.


What will the NHL look like in a few years because of this new league? And will the Continental Hockey League eventually square off against the NHL for a different kind of playoffs and Stanley Cup?  


Is a new hockey world in its infancy?


And one last note: Aside from the mafia, the gypsies, the low-life’s, the dirt, etc., you must know that everyday, regular Russian people are some of the warmest, kindest, gentle folk you will find. They’ll give you the shirt of their back. They’re loving, family-oriented people, and have all kinds of values North Americans can learn from.


And maybe that’s why Russian hockey players want to go home. 

2 thoughts on “The Continental Hockey League Is A Curious Thing Indeed”

  1. DK,

    Go down East and you’ll find that the people are the same. I think of this as an expression of the culture of rural poverty as opposed to, say, ghetto poverty which generates alienation, violence, despair. And I think the former is true of Russia, that even with the urban migration, the values and attitudes of the countryside are still shaping the character of the poor. And, yes, for the most part Russians are POOR and as such they must depend on and support each other otherwise a descent into nihilistic ghetto poverty will occur.
    In Russia, the fall of the wall did not herald the immediate inauguration of a Liberal Democracy except on the surface of things. It seems to me that Russia has simply regressed to the pre-Bolshevik two-tiered society: the rich/the poor, with a very small middle-class frantically striving to establish itself. This convulsive change opened the doors to a relatively very small group of pirates, rapacious opportunists who plundered the assets of the defunct Soviet State with unlimited greed and absolutely no moral or ethical inhibitions. The Continental League, I think is a direct consequence of this free-for-all. Fitzgerald (I think) said that `the rich are not like you and me’ and he was right. The current crop, like the old aristocratic class, has more in common with their fellow billionaires than with their own countrymen. To these people, professional sporting teams are merely pieces in a game – of what? one-upmanship? my dick is bigger than yours? whatever – that they play amongst themselves. For example, in the West, Paul Allen has his Seahawks and his yacht on which he can play at being a benevolent Philosopher King when at sea and which, also, he can compare and flaunt at his fellow players many of whom are now nouveau-riche Russians.

    Will the league succeed? Why not? The amount of moola holding it up is staggering. I don’t believe it will operate in the same manner as the NHL simply because the culture is different and the social conditions mitigate against the kind of consumerism that feeds so well off a much `fatter’ fan base. In the long term, I think Russia, and therefore Russian hockey, has to confront its demons: it’s history of oppression for hundreds of years by Mongol invaders, it’s atavistic tolerance/exhaltation even of the `strong man’ syndrome, the apathy that pervades the country and in part is indicated by and perpetuated by the absence of an entrepreneurial tradition that would encourage people to strive to rise above their marginal conditions, endemic alcoholism – yes, the `little water’ has a big negative impact, the lacka of a liberal democratic tradition that would impel the people to move more purposefully towards a more universal law-governed less local corrupt/despotic society and, well, add to the list. Perhaps, in time, the new class of Russian ruler together with their rich cronies will come to see, as they did in the Western world that a prosperous educated free-thinking/speaking population is the surest way to secure their power base and ensure their continued hegemony.

  2. DK,

    Sigh, forgot the last line: They can also rest assured that the quality of their league will also improve … in all ways.

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