KHL President Medvedev Talks Expansion in Four Countries

Alexander Medvedev always keeps things interesting.  In a wide-ranging interview with Sportsdaily.ru, he opened up about his KHL club's (SKA St. Petersburg) recent playoff defeat, and then launched into a rather whimsical vision of potential westward KHL expansion.  In the interview, he claims that Slovak club Lev Poprad's inclusion into the KHL is a 99% certainty for 2011-12, and while that was an interesting enough comment, he continued on by listing more European markets that he's had discussions with.  He described the SM-Liiga's Espoo Blues and Italy's AC Milan as 'close to joining' and said the team was going to meet with officials from Slovan Bratislava at the World Championships, which will be held in the Slovak capital's newly upgraded arena.  He also mentioned continued hope for the Ukrainian club Sokol Kiev to join the league in 2011-12.

So that's Slovakia, Finland, Italy and Ukraine that are next on the KHL's target list.  The KHL has teams in four countries currently, and already has 23 total teams.  There is plenty of reason to be skeptical about some of these plans.  The Poprad and Kiev teams definitely have legs, having both getting expansion bids approved in the past (though the Kiev team was actually for a different club, see comments) only to encounter problems in finalizing the team.  The Espoo Blues bid, however, is being met with surprise and suspicion, with the team's General Manager saying he had never heard of such a possibility before.  

The entry of an Italian team based in Milan has been met with with suspicion.  Italy based Russian hockey journalist Alessandro Seren Rosso explained the complexities of such a move in an interview with 4period.ru.  The Milan option has come up before, but with such a low standard to build a team around in terms of both local and foreign hockey players in Italy, the team would be starting from a real disadvantage.  Seren Rosso also believes that the sport would have limited appeal amongst local fans, who prefer provincial rivalries to international ones, as the names of CSKA and Avangard don't carry much weight amongst the fanbase.

A second team in Slovakia, before a first one has even happened, is actually the more likely possibility:  the Slovnaft Extraliga is really suffering right now and fans and observers seem to be looking at the KHL as a kind of white knight to bring better quality hockey to the nation.  Maros Krajci, the team's President and General Manager, says the team would need to triple their exsisting budget to join the KHL, but seemed hopeful of that possibility.  The newly renovated rink in Bratislava seats 10,000 for hockey, which would put it near the top of the KHL in terms of capacity.  

As for Sokol Kyiv, Ukraine is hosting the Division 1A World Championships this year in the Kyiv Palace of Sports, and that could be when Medvedev is planning to visit them.  The Palace of Sports is an old multi-purpose arena used for basketball, gymnastics, handball, concerts and as an ice rink, but the KHL wants a new rink to be built and it looks like Medvedev is checking out the progress towards that goal.  

In other words, now that Medvedev's millions hasn't gone into winning a Gagarin Cup for his hockey team, he's focusing his grand ambition back to expanding the KHL pretty quickly.  Just be prepared to take it for what it's worth.

You can read a full translation of the Medvedev interview here as a Google Doc, done by Teemu H. of SBN's Broad Street Hockey.  Hat tip to the good folks at International Hockey Forums for the original article.  

Meanwhile, Puck Daddy has this story on the dispute between the NHL and KHL that has led to the cancellation of next season's KHL vs. NHL games that were planned to involve the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers.  Medvedev is indeed a busy man.

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