Note to Self – Turning a negative into a positive

Brian Murphy

Brian Murphy

The USFL. The XFL. The WHA. The ABA. The WNBA.

What do each of these leagues have in common? For one reason or another, they each failed in their attempts to provide an alternative to one of the “Big Four” professional sports leagues.

And while the United Football League isn’t scheduled to begin play until this October, we can go ahead and add them to the list as well. For starters, the league will have only six teams – located in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando, San Francisco, Hartford and Los Angeles. So far, they have announced four head coaches to run these teams. They are Jim Fassel, Ted Cottrell, Jim Haslett and Dennis Green.

Fassel hasn’t been a head coach since 2003. And while he won more games than he lost in the NFL, he’s been unable to get another head coaching gig because of a reputation of womanizing and boozing (two characteristics that go well together in many professions, just not coaching).

Cottrell is a 62-year-old who has coached since 1973. Unfortunately, he’s never been given the opportunity to be a head coach. And unfortunately for him his first (and likely only) chance will come in a league that’s irrelevant.

Haslett won 10 games his rookie year in charge of the New Orleans Saints. He never won double digit games in a season again. His last two years coaching in the NFL (with New Orleans and then St. Louis) he went 5-23.

Green is who we thought he was. And by hiring him, the UFL let him off the hook.

So if you’re a masochist or a fan of shitty football and plan on tuning in to the UFL this fall, please cheer for the New York franchise. At least they gave an opportunity to a deserving candidate.

Honestly, if the UFL wanted to build itself as a viable alternative to the mighty juggernaut that is the NFL, they’d be wise to do their research and model their business plan after the Kontinental Hockey League. Formerly known as the Russian Superleague, the 24-team KHL is quietly becoming a league worth following.

Here’s a crash course on the KHL – 21 of the teams are based in the Russian Federation with the remaining franchises located in Belarus, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. Russian teams are not allowed to sign more than five foreign players and can only use four foreign players per game. Also, foreign goaltenders have a limit regarding total seasonal ice time. All of this encourages teams to build locally, which is always a good thing.

But when teams do go outside the Russian borders to find talent, they’re aiming high. In 2008, when Jaromir Jagr became a free agent for the first time in his career, he opted to sign with Avangard Omsk of the KHL for a reported $10 million a year (tax free). Sure Jagr is now 37 years old and isn’t the same player he was when he and Mario Lemieux led the Pittsburgh Penguins, but he’s still one of the biggest names in hockey. Getting him to play in your league provides instant credibility.

Alexei Yashin, Andrei Nikolishin, Darius Kasparaitis, Ben Clymer and Ray Emery are a few other names from NHL seasons past who spent last season in the KHL. We’re not talking about stealing away someone like Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin in their prime, but rather cashing in on name players on the down side of their career to make your league noteworthy.

And honestly, if I’m the NHL, I’m definitely noticing the KHL. If they ever get to the point where they can steal away a top-tier player in his prime, that’s when you worry. But for now, when they’re content to raid players typically 35 or older, then let them have at it.

For a team like the New York Rangers, who continually overpays for free agents, the KHL could be a blessing in disguise. When your payroll is maxed out and you’re stuck paying some over-the-hill forward five or six million a year, then you should pray at night the KHL gets involved and bails you out.

While the Washington Capitals are run by much smarter people than the Rangers, this offseason has been packed with stories involving their aging free agents contemplating playing in Russia. Since the season ended for the Caps, Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Donald Brashear and now Michael Nylander have all been linked to the KHL. While the first three are all free agents, who are able to make the move if they see fit, Nylander remains under contract.

Anyone who watched Washington last season knows the team would love to move him, but that Nylander has a no-movement clause in his contract. So the second highest-paid forward on the roster (behind Ovechkin, but ahead of talented youngsters such as Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin) was essentially paid to ride the pine the second half of the season and the playoffs.

Even though he has two years remaining on his NHL contract, it would be best for everyone involved if the Capitals and Avangard Omsk could work something out. Nylander can try to get his groove back playing alongside Jagr one more time and the Caps can have financial flexibility to set them up for sustained success.

Sure, the KHL is trying to become legitimate competition for the NHL, but those running NHL franchises would be wise to use the situation to their advantage. The way I see it, if you’ve got an over-the-hill player rotting away on your payroll, the KHL would love to have him. Think of it in terms of a yard sale. You get rid of your garbage and pick up a couple dollars in the process. Things might change down the road, but for now, this is a good thing.

Brian Murphy is an award-winning sportswriter who also goes by the name Homer McFanboy. Contact him at

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