Cuts to KHL salary cap could mean NHL’s “rival” league is a rival no longer

During the weekend of the KHL’s All-Star Game, league president Dmitry Chernyshenko told media there are plans to cut the salary cap by 50 million rubles per season until 2017-18. That would leave the league with a salary cap of roughly $14.5 million.

When the KHL came into existence in 2008, it was evident that the Russian league’s goal was to become a league that rivaled the NHL in every aspect. That dream may be all but dead, as it appears the league is prepared to slash its salary cap to deal with the plummeting ruble.

During the KHL’s all-star weekend, president Dmitry Chernyshenko spoke to media and told them that he wants to, and plans to, slice the KHL’s salary cap by 50 million rubles each season until 2017-18. A cut of that magnitude is equal to roughly $750,000 USD per season. Were the ruble to stay at its current value, the cuts would leave the KHL’s salary cap at an estimated $14.5 million.

The reasons for the cuts to the salary cap are quite clear. This season alone there have been numerous reports of players not receiving payment on time, while other clubs have reportedly not paid players in months. The ruble’s shocking collapse has put the league in a financial bind, all but guaranteeing that there will be clubs unable to compete next season.

In recent years, there have been a few marquee players that have chosen the greener pastures of their home countries, including former Nashville Predator Alexander Radulov and New Jersey Devils superstar Ilya Kovalchuk. Interestingly, over the weekend, Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin didn’t deny his interest in one day returning to the KHL.

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But will the league even be able to afford the salaries of some of their biggest stars?

It’s possible the draw for some Russian players is still there. After all, like Canadians playing for any Canadian club, there’s something special about playing in front of your home country’s fans and being close to family and friends. But even if a few Russian superstars leave for the KHL, the issue then becomes filling out a roster with enough quality players to make the team competitive.

No matter the power of one single star, a league is nothing without a competitive balance and teams that are comprised of more than one big name. Without money to pay the players, the level of play in the KHL will surely sink, as some may choose European options over suiting up in Russia.

If the ruble recovers, there remains hope for the league to get back to competing with the North American game. However, following Chernyshenko’s words, the hope is fading fast. While the goal was once to become the next best option to the NHL, the league appears to be headed towards the WHA, if anything.