Lost in the controversy over Gary Bettman’s ban of NHL and NHL-owned players from the 2018 Winter Olympics is an equally huge story – the prospect of the Russian KHL also prohibiting its players in retaliation for the IOC’s ban of Team Russia.
Putin’s professionals are still welcome at PyeongChang, though they’ll be competing as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and must be clean of performance-enhancing substances. In December, the Kontinental Hockey League temporarily put a message on its website inviting skaters to take part in South Korea, then quickly removed it and announced that no decision had been made.
The KHL is considered the world’s best league outside of North America, boasting former NHL talents like Ilya Kovalchuk. Several Russian stars left their NHL clubs to play for the KHL in 2017-18, hoping to skirt around Bettman’s ban and represent at least some version of a Russian national team.
Team USA and Team Canada have leaned heavily on Russian-league talent in putting rosters together for PyeongChang. If the Russian league bans its players, over half of the Canadian team would have to be replaced with non-drafted college kids or whoever general manager Brian Burke can scrape up. The United States would face a similar dilemma.
News has been cloudy and scarce. But a European journalist sent out a bombshell tweet on Wednesday that was somehow ignored by stateside media:
Reached out to KHL with a question: What if Hockey Canada names it's roster tomorrow and a lot of the players will be from your league? Their reponse was ''Even though we haven't made a public announcement, KHL has comitted to going to the Winter Olympics''.
— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) January 10, 2018
Kalnins is unknown in the U.S. and Canada, but he’s not some fan playing a prank. The Latvian is an international scout and writer for Hockey Buzz and other publications.
A prior tweet from a Russia-savvy journalist on January 5th seems to corroborate Kalnins’ statement:
Russia hockey is now releasing warm up and training info for the Olympics without disclosing if KHL players are going
— FromRussiaWithGlove (@RussiaWithGlove) January 5, 2018
If the KHL gives the green light, “Team Almost-Russia” will likely romp to the gold medal. If not, the Finns and Swedes will have the upper hand…and Team USA will be a pitiful collection of green-horns and journeymen.
Of course, NHL and KHL brass could always act-out a “miracle off ice” and level with the public, to help solve the maddening mystery of where Olympic hockey is headed.