Why Sidney Crosby Going to KHL Would Be PR Disaster for NHL

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 29, 2012

A full-season lockout could result in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby playing in the KHL.
A full-season lockout could result in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby playing in the KHL.Paul Bereswill/Getty Images

Work stoppages are old hat in the NHL.

Especially in the Gary Bettman era.

Since Bettman became commissioner in 1993, the league endured a shortened regular season during the 1994-95 lockout. Ten years later, an entire season was lost due to the lockout and subsequent work stoppage during the 2004-05 season.

Many fans said they would never forgive or forget the lost season, but that has not proved to be the case. The NHL has had record revenues since that lockout, and fans have returned to the game.

Another lockout could be at hand Sept. 15 if the league and the NHLPA have not come to an understanding on a new collective bargaining agreement.

While it will be painful for fans, players may be in the process of making other arrangements if the NHL is closed for business.

The KHL is almost certainly the best alternative for players who want to compete at the highest level. It is expected that many Russian-born players would play in the KHL as an alternative.

For example, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins is not likely to sit idly and let his formidable skills rust because owners are locking out players in the NHL. Instead, he would almost certainly play for the Metallurg Magnitogorsk franchise.

Malkin said that the team's proximity to friends and family make it the most desirable place to play, according to Dmitry Chesnokov of Puck Daddy.

Malkin also mentioned that there's a chance teammate Sidney Crosby might eventually join him in Russia.

Malkin explained that while a lot of North American players might hesitate before playing in Russia, Crosby would not want to lose a full season to the lockout.

"If the lockout is announced for the entire season, then Crosby may come," Malkin stated. "He loves to play and won't be able to live an entire year without hockey."

That concept may be understandable, but to see the NHL's best player head to Russia to play would be a severe blow for the NHL.

Malkin made it clear that he did not think Crosby would play in Russia for just a few weeks if the negotiations are ongoing. But, a cancelled season could change his plans.

It's one thing for the best players from Russia, Slovakia, Finland and Czech Republic to come to the NHL; it's quite another for the best Canadian and American players to reverse the process.

It could be construed as the NHL relinquishing its status as the best professional hockey league in the world.

While the best players would eventually come back, players going to the KHL and other leagues to play would mean there is an alternative that could eventually weaken and water down the NHL.

Bettman and the owners need to think about this before they let what may be a power play in the negotiating process escalate into a full-fledged disaster.