So much of the news from Russia’s Continental Hockey League (KHL) over the past few years has been bad. Last year’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, which killed all but one passenger. The heart-attack death of New York Rangers teenage prospect Alexei Cherepanov, while playing for Avangard Omsk during the 2008-09 season. Disputes with foreign players over having their contracts honoured.

Embarking on its fifth full season, the KHL is a more mature league now, but given its far-flung geography, has no one-size-fits-all character, says Barry Smith, who coached SKA St. Petersburg between 2008 and 2010 after winning five Stanley Cup championships as an NHL assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings.

“There are so many different personalities of the league because each city is so different in what they offer and what the possibilities are,” Smith said in a telephone interview.