Fans wanting to see Ilya Kovalchuk take on NHL competition once again could be doing so if the league and the KHL can strike a deal to face each other in an exhibition outing, something that is a possibility, said KHL president Dmitry Chernyshenko.
According to Sport-Express’ Igor Eronko, Chernyshenko has said that a game pitting the Gagarin Cup winning club — the KHL’s post-season champion — against the Stanley Cup champions in what would likely be a one-game showdown. The idea for the champion vs. champion game, said Chernyshenko, is being discussed with NBC.
It wouldn’t be the first time the NHL has taken on international competition in a one-off exhibition match, as the league’s former NHL Premiere series in Europe pitted top clubs from the European leagues against NHL clubs. Some of the opponents included teams from the Swiss NLA, Swedish SHL, German DEL and even Russia’s KHL.
There also existed the Victoria Cup, which was a one-game playoff between a European squad and NHL teams that only spent two years in existence.
The first Victoria Cup, in 2008, was played between the European Champions Cup-winning Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL and the New York Rangers. New York took the contest 4-3. The second Victoria Cup took place in 2009, with the Champions Hockey League-winning ZSC Lions defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1. No Victoria Cup games have been played since the second championship.
Having a one-off game between the Stanley Cup and Gagarin Cup champions would be a massive win for the KHL regardless of who were to win the game. It would generate publicity, viewers and revenue for the league and could even boost the league’s popularity in North America. But Chernyshenko saying the game has been discussed doesn’t mean it’s any closer to becoming a reality.
From an NHL perspective, the game might pose more risks than it does rewards. While the game would almost certainly draw a big audience and generate some additional revenue, having one of the league’s teams — and the Stanley Cup champion, at that — potentially lose to a KHL club wouldn’t be best for the NHL. Add in the potential for injuries to star players in an exhibition where the two teams would be playing for pride and it might be a tough sell.
There’s also a matter of where to play the game. Both Victoria Cup contests were played in Switzerland, but would the KHL squad come to the NHL in order to play the game or would the Stanley Cup champions head to the big ice in Russia?
Of course, any hockey fan would love to see the game played. With nothing on the line, preseason and exhibition games generally don’t mean much and putting league pride on the table might be enough to spark some classic contests. Whether it happens, though, is another question altogether.