Richard Zednik got immediate medical attention after a skate cut his neck. The quick response likely saved his life. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
I have three words of advice for any professional hockey player considering jumping to the Kontinental League: do your homework.
The lure of lucre is sweet and we realize as professional athletes your window of opportunity for big paydays is relatively small, but money, we’re told (and often believe), ain’t everything.
The details on the tragic death of Alexei Cherepanov are still to be revealed so we don’t know whether anyone was negligent. We’ve only heard the speculation and accusations and seen a YouTube video that raises questions.
In a news release delivered Thursday the league said it makes player welfare a priority.
“The KHL is committed to the safety of our players and will ensure that all member teams provide the highest level of medical care for our players,” said KHL president Alexander Medvedev. “We will have more information to share in the coming weeks.”
So we won’t jump to any conclusions.
But from a big picture perspective, “big league” is more than big salaries. Some of the questions players considering a move to the Russian loop should be asking of their agents, other players and themselves include:
• What health and safety measures are in place? Did you see evidence of team doctors in arenas and safety equipment on site?
• What’s the player union like? Does it provide adequate protection and servicing?
• What about travel? We’ve heard horror stories of 16-hour road trips to cities near the Chinese border. Is that typical or an aberration?
• What about lifestyle? Lodgings? Communication? Isolation?
One agent with whom we spoke said his clients haven’t complained heavily about the KHL. Most of their beefs had to do with the language barrier and culture shock – not really knowing what to do in their spare time.
On the flip side, we do know what the NHL can do in the event of an emergency. Richard Zednik, Jiri Fischer and, many years ago, Clint Malarchuk had their lives saved due to mandated safety measures. The league has health and safety committees and is active in the study of concussions. And the player union can be a powerful ally.
The KHL may prove to be a first-class competitor to the NHL and a wonderful organization in which to enjoy or extend a professional career, but the evidence still needs to be heard.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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