First went Alexei Yashin, then Jaromir Jagr; now Sergei Fedorov and Sergei Zubov have moved to the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. And by signing 25-year-old Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler in July, the KHL showed that it is more than a place for soon-to-be NHL Hall of Famers to skate out their final seasons."It's the closest thing to the NHL there is," says former Flyers goalie Robert Esche (right), who's with SKA Saint Petersburg.
The KHL has attracted scores of NHL players but has yet to sign a frontline star in his prime. While one NHL G.M. says the league is "hurting our depth," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly maintains that he's less concerned with the KHL than he was 12 months ago. The players going to the KHL "are good enough to play in the NHL, but there are other players who are just as good," he says.
Hit hard by the global economic downturn, some KHL teams have had trouble with funding; last season some players were reportedly not paid or had their salaries deeply cut. Still, Dynamo Moscow signed Hudler to a two-year, $10 million deal, tax free; Esche says "the money's great," and the 24-team KHL is mapping out a plan to expand. The KHL may be a long way from landing players of the caliber of Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin, but it does have NHL G.M.'s wondering just who might go there next.