Kunlun Red Star added to KHL for next season

MOSCOW -- The Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League has confirmed that it will add a Chinese club next season as it competes against the NHL in Asian markets.

Kunlun Red Star has been approved by the KHL board to join the league and now faces a rush to get ready for the start of play in August. The KHL said a formal contract ceremony will take place Saturday in China.

The move means the 2022 Winter Olympic host city of Beijing now has a team in what is widely regarded as the strongest league outside the NHL. However, it is likely to rely almost exclusively on foreign pros rather than Asian players.

With just under two months until the season starts Aug. 22, the KHL said in a statement that it was still not clear who would play for Kunlun or how it would recruit players.

"At the current time legal procedures are continuing related to the process of Kunlun Red Star competing in the KHL, and also the formation of the roster and plans for pre-season training," the league said in a statement.

Former New Jersey Devils winger Ilya Kovalchuk is one of several Russian stars that local media say may sign with Kunlun.

After the KHL started play in 2008, it targeted aggressive expansion into European markets. That process has slowed due to the chronic financial problems of many new teams, which have relied heavily on money from companies owned by the Russian government. Instead, the KHL is now aiming to grow in Asia.

Kunlun's addition brings the KHL to a total of 29 teams from eight countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. The vast majority, 22 teams, are from Russia, and the league rules include various regulations designed to help the Russian national team prepare for international tournaments.