The Kontinental Hockey League continues to march across Europe and Asia, planting a flag in lucrative markets.
First came Red Star Kunlun, a KHL team based in Beijing which will begin play next season. On Friday, KHL vice president George Kobylynansky announced further expansion plans: That the Great Britain Ice Hockey Federation gave permission to the Russian hockey league to put an expansion team in London.
Aivis Kalniņš reports that the KHL and the U.K. hockey officials have “come to terms.”
This is … curious?
Some background on hockey in the U.K. The Elite Ice Hockey League has been thriving since 2003, with 10 teams that include Puck Daddy favorites the Sheffield Steelers and the Belfast Giants. There used to be a team in London, the Racers, but they ceased operation during the 2005-06 due to a lack of facilities.
The EIHL has been desirous to bring another team to London, with Nottingham Panthers owner Neil Black leading the charge. He said recently after an EIHL board meeting that a London team would be “a few years away.”
And now we get the announcement that there is a London team … in the KHL.
We’ve heard some speculation that Black could be involved in the London KHL team, and it sort of makes sense on a couple of fronts. More importantly, it slices through the EIHL red tape and gets a team there. But it would also allow that team to tap into the KHL’s pool of players, immediately upping the talent level as Black (in theory) targets his main goal, which is becoming the first UK team owner to capture an IIHF Continental Cup, which is a tournament for European teams. (Actual ones. Not, like, World Cup of Hockey SuperTeams.)
Again, no word if Black is involved in the bid.
But this is also an odd fit for a London franchise. It’s been challenging enough to generate interest for the EIHL, and now you’re asking fans with a tangential-at-best interest in ice hockey to get down with a London vs. Severstal Cherepovets, rivalry, rather than, say, Edinburgh?
Give the KHL some credit: They’re aggressively trying to expand to markets before the NHL gets its house in order to create some kind of European imprint, starting with a Ryder Cup-style tournament (long-rumored for the U.K.) and possibly getting to an NHL Europe league. It’s ultimately fruitless if the NHL does start planting flags in Europe, given the status and stature of one League vs. the other. But it’s an interesting play for now.