The KHL is the top hockey league in Russia, and during the absence of the NHL also the top hockey league in the world. About three dozen NHLers have signed on with the KHL for the duration of the lock-out.
There are currently 26 teams, twenty of them in Russia and one each in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. They are divided into two conferences, one with twelve and one with fourteen clubs, and each conference is divided into two divisions. Every club plays a 52 game schedule from September to February. The top eight finishers in each conference make the playoffs. Four rounds of best-of-seven series determine the Gagarin Cup winner.
The KHL is the heir of the old Soviet league. The succession of top Russian leagues goes: 1946-47 to 1991-92 Soviet Championship League; 1992-93 to 1995-96 International Ice Hockey League; 1996-97 to 2007-08 Russian Superleague; 2008-09 to now KHL.
The current KHL teams are:
In the Chernyeshev Division, Eastern Conference:
HC Barys. Barys play in Astana, Kazakhstan. The club was founded in 1999 and participated in the Kazakhstan league until joining the Russian Superleague in 2007, and then the KHL in 2008. Their rink, the Kazakhstan Sports Palace, holds 5,532. Colours: double blue and white. [Nikolai Antropov of the Winnipeg Jets, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Ryan McDonagh have signed with Barys Astana.]
HC Amur. Amur play in Khabarovsk, which is so far east it's practically in Japan. The club began in 1966, and moved up to the Russian Superleague in 1996. Their rink is the Platinum Arena, capacity 7,100. Blue and white.
HC Metallurg Novokuznetsk. Founded in 1949, they joined the Superleague in 1999. Kuznetsk Metallurgists Sports Palace holds 7,533. Novokuznetsk is north of the point where Kazakhstan and Mongolia nearly meet. Red, black and white.
HC Sibir. Sibir are from Novosibirsk, Russia's third-largest city and the administrative centre of a chunk of Eurasia about the size of China. The club was founded in 1962 and joined the KHL in 2008. The Ice Sports Palace Sibir holds 7,400 sectators. Another blue and white team.
HC Avangard Omsk Oblast. Founded 1950. They won the Superleague in 2004 and the IIHF European Champions Cup in 2005. Omsk Arena can contain 10,318 Avangard fans. Dostoyevsky was exiled to Onsk in 1849. Red, black and white. [Nikita Nikitin of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Andrew Ladd of the Winnipeg Jets, and Sergei Kostitsyn of the Nashville Predators have signed with Omsk.]
HC Salavat Yulaev Ufa. Founded 1957. Winners of the 1995 IIHF Federation Cup. Russian champions in 2008 and 2011. Salavat will be representing Russia at this month's Spengler Cup. Green, blue and white. Ufa Arena holds 8,200. The city of Ufa was founded in the time of Ivan the Terrible.
In the Kharlamov Division, Eastern Conference:
HC Traktor. What a good old-fashioned Soviet name. Founded in 1947, they play at the 7,500-seat Traktor Sport Palace in Chelyabinsk. Black, white, red and grey. [Andrei Kostitsyn of the Nashville Predators has signed with Traktor.]
HC Ak Bars Kazan. Snow Leopards. Four-time Russian champions. Winners of the 2008 IIHF Continental Cup. Green, red and white. Tatneft Arena holds 10,000. [Alexei Yemelin of the Habs has signed with Ak Bars.]
HC Yugra. Founded in 2006, HC Yugra progressed to the KHL in 2010. Arena Ugra came accommodate 5,500 supporters. Blue, green and white. Yugra is the ancient homeland of the Hungarians.
Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Founded in 1955, the Magnitka have won the Russian Superleague three times, various IIHF European championships four times, and the 2005 Spengler Cup. Sergei Fedorov is captain. Magnitogorsk Arena holds 7,500. Blue, red and white. The city of Magnitogorsk was created by the First Five Year Plan in 1928 and modeled on Gary, Indiana. [Sergei Gonchar of the Ottawa Senators, Yevgeny Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nikolai Kulyomin of the Leafs and Ryan O'Reilly of the Colorado Avalanche have signed with Magnitogorsk.]
HC Neftekhimik. Founded 1968 in Nizhnekamsk, which was itself founded in 1961 as a petrochemical city. It looks like a petrochemical city. SCC Arena holds 5,500. Double blue and white. [Nail Yakupov of the Edmonton Oilers has signed with Neftekhimik.]
HC Avtomobilist Yakaterinburg. Founded in 2006. Joined the KHL in 2009. Red, black and white. Their rink is the 5,570-seat KRK Uralets. Yakaterinburg is named after Empress Catherine I, though from 1924 to 1991 the city was rebranded Sverdlovsk after Bolshevik leader Yakov Sverdlov. [Joffrey Lupul of the Leafs has signed with Avtomobilist.]
In the Tarasov Division, Western Conference:
HC Severstal. From the steelmaking city of Cherepovets. Their Ice Palace seats 6,064. Black, yellow, orange and white. Founded 1954. They used to have the best logo, with molten steel pouring out of the letter C, but they changed it to an unengaging Moebius triangle. [Tom Wandell of the Dallas Stars has signed with Severstal.]
HC Dinamo Minsk. This is the second Dinamo Minsk club. The first began in 1976 and played in the top Soviet league, after which it changed its name and won the Belarusian league four times, before disbanding in 2000. The second club was started in 2003, and became Belarusian champions in 2007 and winners of the Spengler Cup in 2009. Minsk-Arena is nearly NHL-size at 15,086 seats. Colours: double blue and white. [Niklas Bäckström of the Minnesota Wild, Evander Kane of the Winnipeg Jets, and Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks have signed with Minsk.]
CSKA. Central Red Army, 32-time Soviet champions. They play at the 5,600-seat CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. Red, white and blue. [Ilya Bryzgalov of the Philadelphia Flyers, Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings, and Mikhail Grabovsky of the Leafs have signed with CSKA.]
HC Spartak Moscow. A venerable old Soviet club founded in 1946. Red and white uniform. They were four-time winners of the Soviet league, and they won the Spengler Cup five times. Their rink is called LDS Sokolniki, and seats 5,350.
HC Atlant Moscow Oblast. You may remember this club as Khimik. Founded in 1953. Famous sons: Igor Larionov and Valerie Kamensky. Blue and yellow. They play at Mytishchi Arena (7,000). Ray Emery played for them after his time in Ottawa. [Anton Khudobin of the Bruins and Fedor Tyutin of the Columbus Blue Jackets have signed with Atlant.]
HC Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. They play at Trade Union Sport Palace, which seats 5,500. Colours: blue, white and red. Founded 1947. Nizhny Novgorod was called Gorky from 1932 to 1990. [Anton Volchenkov of the NJ Devils has signed with Torpedo.]
HC Lokomotiv. This is the club that lost its entire roster in a plane crash two years ago. They spent last season rebuilding in a lower league, but have been fast-tracked back to the KHL this year, which accounts for the number of NHLers signed this summer, even before the lockout. Founded in 1959. Red, white and blue. Their rink is Arena 2000, which seats 10,000, in Yaroslavl. Three-time Russian champions. [Sami Lepistö of the Blackhawks, Curtis Sanford of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Niklas Hagman of the Anaheim Ducks, Mark Flood of the Winnipeg Jets, Artem Anisimov of the Blue Jackets, Dmitri Kulikov of the Florida Panthers, and Semen Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche have signed with Lokomotiv.]
In the Bobrov Division, Western Conference:
HC Slovan Bratislava. Slovan Bratislava is the most successful club in Slovak hockey. They go back to 1921, and have been champions of Slovakia ten times and of Czechoslovakia once, have won the Spengler Cup three times in a row, and the IIHF Continental Cup in 2004. They joined the KHL this year. Blue, white and red. Andrej Nepela Arena holds 10,055. [Lubomir Visnovsky of the NY Islanders and Andrej Sekera of the Buffalo Sabres have signed with Slovan Bratislava.]
HC Vityaz Chekhov. The Knights. Their rink, Ice Hockey Center 2004, holds 3,000. Dark red and white. Founded 1996. Their General Manager is Alexei Zhamnov. Chekhov lies about fifty miles south of Moscow. [Andrei Markov of the Habs and Mark Cullen of the Florida Panthers have signed with Vityaz.]
HC Donbass. Founded in 2005, they became champions of the Ukraine in 2011. This is their first season in the KHL. They play at the 4,130-seat Druzhba Palace of Sports in Donetsk. Red, white, black and grey. [Anton Babchuk of the Calgary Flames has signed with Donbass.]
HC Dynamo Moscow. Ten-time Russian champions, twice Spengler Cup winners, and IIHF European Champions Cup winner 2006. In 2010 they merged with HC MVD. They play at Megasport Arena, which really is mega by European standards, with room for 14,500 supporters. Blue and white. [Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Bäckström of the Washington Capitals have signed wth Dynamo Moscow.]
HC Lev Praha. Lev is the result of the KHL's efforts to get a franchise in the Czech Republic. Attempts two years ago to set up the club in Hradec Králové failed to get off the ground. Last year there was a Lev in Propad, Slovakia. This year the franchise is set up in the 13,150-seat Tipsport Arena in Prague, which is also the home rink of the Czech Extraliga's Sparta Praha. [Jiri Hudler of the Calgary Flames, Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers, and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins have signed with Lev Praha. Hudler subsequently moved to Trinec of the Czech Extraliga.]
Dinamo Riga. This Latvin team is a resurrection of the Soviet era club of the same name. They play at the Arena Riga (capacity 10,300). Maroon and white. [Kaspars Daugavins of the Ottawa Senators has signed with Dinamo Riga.]
HC SKA. From Saint Petersburg, formerly Leningrad. Four-time Spengler Cup winners. Their Ice Palace seats 12,300. Blue and red. [Ilya Kovalchuk of the NJ Devils, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues have signed with SKA.] [January 4th, 2013: Kristopher Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins has signed with SKA.]