Kontinental Hockey League Betting
by Trevor Whenham - 10/23/2008
If you like the betting opportunities that hockey has to offer, there is no reason to limit yourself to just the NHL. There are other leagues full of solid talent to bet on, and lots of online books you can bet on them with. Chief among the options is the KHL, or the Kontinental Hockey League. This league, in its first year of operation, replaced the Russian Super League. It ambitiously wants to be the best hockey league in the world. That might be too much to hope for, but it's already fairly clearly entrenched in the No. 2 position, as the Russian league was before it. Before you can bet on this league you'll need a quick primer. Without further ado:
Teams - There are currently 24 teams in the league. Twenty one of them are from Russia, including all 20 teams that were in the Super League, and there are single entries from Latvia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. The Latvian team, Dinamo Riga, is the only team that was formed specifically to join the KHL. The rest have been around longer, with four dating back as far as 1946.
The teams are split into four divisions. Over the course of the season, which runs from the beginning of September to the end of February, teams will play 56 games - four against teams in their division, and two against the other teams. It's certainly not that hard to make the playoffs. The four division winners and then the next 12 best teams all live to skate another day. This is a ridiculous proportion of postseason participation, but the NHL was similarly set up prior to expansion, and the KHL set up in the same way with an eye to growing bigger.
In the playoffs the teams are seeded from one to 16, with the division winners guaranteed the top four spots. The top team then plays No. 16, and so on. Teams are reseeded after every playoff round. The first two rounds will be best-of-five series, and the last two are best-of-seven. In the end, the winner will be awarded the Gagarin Cup, named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
Players - The league is well backed financially in many centers, so it has been aggressive in attracting top-level players. There are several names in the league that will be familiar to NHL fans. Most notable is Jaromir Jagr. The fading superstar signed a two-year contract for $10 million per year to play for Avangard Omsk. Behind him in the league pecking order are former NHL veterans like Jozef Stumpel, Ladislav Nagy, Niko Kapanen, Ray Emery, and Sergei Brylin.
The league has had a rough relationship with the NHL. Though a player agreement is now in place that will stop the league from poaching each other's contracted players, it wasn't yet in effect when Alexander Radulov signed with Salavat Yulaev Ufa of the KHL for three years. The problem was that Radulov was under contract with the Nashville Predators for one more year. The situation set off a firestorm. In the end Radulov stayed in Russia and was suspended without pay by Nashville.
The biggest story about a player in the young league to date was sadly tragic. Alexei Cherepanov was a 19-year-old former first round pick of the New York Rangers. He was a tremendous talent who was playing alongside Jagr and doing well. This would likely have been his last season in Russia. On Oct. 13 he collapsed on the bench soon after coming off the ice from a shift. He was resuscitated a couple of times, but ultimately died. The cause is thought to be a pre-existing heart condition.
Expansion - The league has another Russian team and a Czech one ready to enter the league next season. As many as 11 other squads are reported to be considering league entry. Expansion across Europe is a goal of the league, and the new teams include squads from Ukraine, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and Austria along with Russia and Belarus. The aggressive expansion could set the league on another collision course with the NHL if the reports of that league's interest in European expansion are to be believed. That seems like a bit of a pipe dream, though.
Betting - Currently, a few books offer lines on all of the games that are played. There aren't a lot of options, and there certainly aren't props or futures widely available. Despite the lack of variety, though, betting on this league can offer a couple of advantages. First, the time zones allow you to bet on this league when not much else is going on. That's good news for the action junkie. Also, the betting volume is low on the league. That means that, if you do your homework, you can likely find lines that are very soft. The high profile of this league makes it easy to find coverage and statistics, so you can quickly become almost as familiar with this league as any domestic league.