How to get your hockey fix: KHL, European leagues
An influx of NHL stars and coverage (if spotty) by ESPN raised the KHL's profile
Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin are scheduled to play KHL games in Brooklyn
Among Euro circuits, the Swiss A and German leagues attracted top NHL talent
No NHL, no problem. While the lockout drags on, there's plenty of topflight hockey to follow across the sport's sprawling landscape. Much of it is already underway. Here's the best of what to watch, and where.
If you're looking to follow major NHL stars, overseas is a very good place to start. Along with the assorted top pro leagues below, there's also the IIHF World Championship tournament (May 3-19) in Stockholm and Helsinki to look forward to, but hopefully the lockout won't last that long. Last May, a stacked Russian team featuring Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk rolled to the gold. (Fans of the women's game will get their edition April 2-9 at Scotiabank place in Ottawa.)
Useful websites include International Ice Hockey Federation and Elite Hockey Prospects. Besides the continually updated list of NHLers who are playing elsewhere during the lockout, you'll find rosters, stats and league pages from around the wide world of hockey.
The KHL is the current, if temporary, home of more than 30 NHL players, including major stars Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, Evgeni Malkin, Zdeno Chara, Pavel Datsyuk and Pekka Rinne. Regarded as the second-best international hockey league in the world, its season began in September and each of its teams will play a 52-game regular schedule that ends on February 17. Postseason play includes 16 teams and four rounds, with the two finalists competing for the Gagarin Cup -- named for the famed cosmonaut.
An offshoot of the Russian Superleague (which ended in 2008), the KHL inherited 20 teams from the RSL and has since expanded to 26. Twenty of them are based in Russia, the other six in Belarus, Czech Republic, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Slovakia and Ukraine. Former NHL notables Sergei Zubov, Sandis Ozolinsh, Sergei Fedorov and Richard Zednik finished their careers in the KHL. Players going the other way, especially top young homegrown talent such as Evgeni Malkin, who ducked out on Metallurg Magnitogorsk in 2006 to join the Pittsburgh Penguins, have created controversy or squabbles between Russian clubs and the NHL.
Dynamo Moscow: The defending champions, who now feature Alex Ovechkin, have reached at least the quarterfinals in every KHL season. Ovie will be looking to get the edge back on his game and buff up his reputation after a down and sometimes criticized 2011-12 season with the Washington Capitals. As Igor Larin of Sports-Express told The New York Times, "[The KHL] has players that are just as good (as NHL stars), but we don't promote them like the North Americans do. For me, the greatest intrigue of the lockout is just how much these players have been overhyped."
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: A year after its roster was decimated in a plane crash, the rebuilt "Loko" started the season in first place in the Western Division at 8-0-3. Coached by an American, Tom Rowe, a former assistant on Carolina's 2006 Stanley Cup winner, and featuring three NHLers (Seymon Varlamov, Artem Anisimov, Dmitry Kulikov) and a balanced offense, Lokomotiv may prove to be the most uplifting story of the hockey season.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk: This team probably acquired the best crop of NHL talent in Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar, and it has a scoring machine in forward Sergei Mozyakin. "Magnitka" also features veteran defender Oleg Tverdovsky, who played 12 seasons for a variety of NHL teams.
Dinamo Minsk: One of the six squads outside of Russia, and the only one in Belarus, its mascot is a miffed buffalo and its captain is former Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jere Karalahti, 37, who has had a troubled but fascinating trek through pro hockey. (SI Vault: "High Times" by Kostya Kennedy, Jan. 21, 2002)
D Kevin Dallman, SKA St. Petersburg: Unable to find a regular role in the NHL, he left for the KHL in 2008 and became a four-time All-Star and one of the league's most respected defensemen. Now with St. Petersburg after four highly successful seasons with Barys Astana in Kazakhstan, Dallman was declared persona non grata in that country after his wife, Stacy, criticized the government in a blog post. She had been active in supporting the wives who lost husbands in the Lokomotiv plane crash.
RW Alexander Radulov, CSKA Moscow: Formerly a highly coveted player, his pathetic postseason falling out with the Nashville Predators may have ruined his reputation in North America (well, it did with Keith Jones at least), but if he has a strong season in the KHL, it will be interesting to see if any NHL team wants to take a chance on him, or if he's even interested in coming back.
RW Nail Yakupov, Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk: See what the fuss is about. The top overall pick, by the Edmonton Oilers, in the 2012 NHL Draft decided to go home and play instead of skate with the Sarnia Sting, his junior team in the OHL. After a brief suspension while his transfer paperwork was sorted out, and a slow start, Yakupov broke through with three goals in two games (plus two more in a shootout) and earned the KHL's rookie of the week honor.
G Ilya Bryzgalov, CSKA Moscow: Philadelphia's eccentric, entertaining (not always if you're a Flyers fan) netminder is hopefully focusing on his game (a little suggestion by GM Paul Holmgren after last season's playoff disappointment). He's also been speaking his mind. "I think some of the players may not return to the NHL because you have everything here and major companies are going to pay the top players here big money" he told TSN. "And, especially for Russians players who can play at home in front of their own fans and families and [earn] even bigger money than they have in the National Hockey League. The KHL can't feed all the players, but for some big players -- especially those with Russian passports -- it might be a threat."
ESPN3: Seven games were initially scheduled for broadcast, starting Oct. 9, with more to come.
DEITSCH: KHL's ESPN debut surreal
Oct. 24: SKA St. Petersburg at Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Led by Dallman and NJ Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, SKA St. Petersburg raced out to an 8-3 start with the rivitalized Lokomotiv.
Oct. 25: CSKA Moscow at Lev Praha. A chance (if you care) to check in on Alex Radulov as he, Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Bryzgalov face off against Zdeno Chara's side.
Jan. 28: Metallurg Magnitogorsk at Dynamo Moscow. The first overseas edition of "Ovechkin vs. Malkin" (they've had a nice little rivalry, if you recall) was won by Malkin's side, 2-0.
April 7-19: The KHL decides its champion with the best-of-seven Gagarin Cup final.