In January I wrote that Russian hockey, by forcing domestic players into the KHL, was ensuring the the league could one day approach, if not equal and surpass, the talent level found in the NHL.
Today’s tragic plane crash underscores how that will probably never happen.
In his book “King of Russia: A Year in the Russian Superleague,” Dave King talks at length in about the travels of KHL teams – the tough mining towns, the surrounding poverty and the perilous flights teams took between games. It’s a subject matter he’s commented on again in the wake of the accident.
There’s lots of oil money backing the KHL. None of it is going towards improving the safety, health or post-career experience of its players. (Not that the NHL is totally infalliable on these issues either. As we’ve seen with the deaths of three players this summer, greater off-ice support is something the league and NHLPA need to adopt.) Until that happens, the Russian Superleague will remain more like the Wild Wild West than a professional alternative to the NHL.
The fact that Sidney Crosby’s return to the NHL is indefinite is the second tragedy of the day (albeit the only one with a possible happy ending). The NHL is a much better league with its best player in the lineup. For anyone paying attention though, today’s announcement was expected – there have been too many rumours of setbacks over the last few months.
Today’s announcement should also be lauded. Whereas previous marquee players like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine rushed back time and again from serious concussion, Crosby’s camp understands he is one big hit away from the end of his career. Given the risk, there is no sense rushing him back before he is 100%.
January 1st, 2012 will mark a year since Crosby received his concussion against the Washington Capitals. Don’t be surprised if we don’t see Sid the Kid in the NHL until after New Year’s Day has passed.