MOSCOW, November 16 (R-Sport) – Since its inception in 2008, the expansionist KHL hockey league has been spreading its tentacles westward across Europe in an ambitious bid to challenge the NHL for global dominance.
But if NHL Hall of Famer Slava Fetisov gets his way, the world will soon see a pan-Pacific Eurasian league with teams from Japan, South Korea and China too.
“For me it’s been part of my long term strategy to develop a pan-pacific KHL league in the next, I don't know, couple of years,” the former New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings star was quoted as saying by the website of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
"Bring in two Japanese teams, two Korean teams, and a couple of teams from China.”
Fetisov's plan is to create a fifth, Pacific division for the KHL incorporating those six teams as well as Amur Khabarovsk, to date the league's most easterly team, and a yet-to-be-founded club in Vladivostok.
The Russian-based KHL started its fifth season in September with 26 teams from seven countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
That's up from 24 teams from four countries in its first season.
While league officials have had a hard time trying to expand further westward by seducing teams in Scandinavia, Italy and Switzerland, Fetisov is looking in the other, potentially more lucrative, direction.
“We would create an eight-team Pacific division within the KHL, which would give a good base for hockey in a huge market like Asia,” said Fetisov.
Fetisov reported that his bold initiative was supported by the IIHF president Rene Fasel during a visit to the federation headquarters in Zurich.
“That’s what my vision is, though people might look at me like I’m a lunatic,” he said. “But I spoke to Rene about this and he does see the future there, and the only way to see the results is to start right now.”
A league spanning half the Earth would have the potential to clinch mega sponsorship contracts and thereby offer the kind of salaries that would prise away some of the sport's top talent from the NHL, Fetisov argued.
The mouthwatering climax would see the Stanley Cup winner face off against the Gagarin Cup champion to establish the planet's leading team. The leagues would synchronize schedules to free up time for Olympic competition and world championships.
One potential problem is that Fetisov, 54, no longer holds a job with the KHL after resigning as chairman of the board last January.
But he still holds considerable sway as a senator in Russia's upper house of parliament representing a Far Eastern region, and chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency's athletes' committee.