Are you wondering where your favorite fourth liner – who probably spent last season alternating between getting scratched and getting sent down to the AHL – has signed for this upcoming season? You probably heard a little buzz that he might sign back if the team was desperate enough. If anything, you think he’ll take a pay cut and agree to skate around in the AHL this year, which is what usually happens to players like him every year.
Well, this offseason is proving to be a little different than previous ones.
In recent years, more players are electing to go to the KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) or other leagues overseas rather than signing with an NHL team only to stay in the AHL. Besides financial reasons, this is also a likely move because they want a different experience to further challenge themselves as players and pick up different techniques and skills from others. The AHL is largely comprised of young players who are typically inexperienced, whereas the KHL has players of varying ages and greater experience playing hockey.
The KHL is comprised of 25 teams, 19 of them are based in Russia while Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Slovakia each host one team. The league is split into two conferences, Eastern and Western. The regular season starts in September and, after 60 games transpire, ends in February. Eight of the top teams in each conference move on to the playoffs where the top team plays the eighth place team. The Gagarin Cup is the trophy presented to the winner of the tournament.
One thing that’s unique about the KHL compared to the NHL is that they had all of the teams who did not make it to the playoffs play in their own tournament, one where the winner receives the Nadezhda Cup (Cup of Hope) along with the first overall pick in the KHL Junior Draft. This tournament first started in the 2012-2013 season, but is currently on hold.
Some notable NHL players who have elected to play in the KHL this year are Beau Bennet, Nikolai Kulemin, Nail Yakupov, David Desharnais, Klas Dahlbeck, Dennis Rasmussen, Michael Latta, Mathew Bodie, Kris Versteeg, Alexei Emelin, and Cody Franson.
These players have moved on to play in the KHL, most likely because they want to better their game. They aren’t ready to give up yet and retire, nor are they okay with their game staying at a standstill in the AHL. They want to grow and learn more so that they can maybe one day come back to the NHL and stick around for good.