|The season may not be over for Dinamo Riga and Avtomobilist quite as soon as they thought... (photo via dinamoriga.eu)|
The tournament will be a basic knockout affair, with a qualifying round to get the West Conference non-playoff teams down to four. In that preliminary round, the 11th-placed team will face 14th, and 12th will play 13th, in a two-game home-and-away series. If the teams split the series, there will be a brief overtime followed by a shootout after the second game. There will be no overtime otherwise, so yes, ties are permitted!! I am unreasonably excited about that.
With that out of the way, the four remaining teams in each conference will engage in a knockout tournament. In the East, 9th will play 12th, and 10th will play 11th, while in the West, 9th and 10th will play against the two survivors of the preliminary round. The winners of those series will play off in the semi-finals, still within their conferences, and then the two semi-final winners will meet for the cup itself. The whole thing will be wrapped up by late March, easily in time for the end of the Gagarin Cup playoffs and the World Championship.
The format of the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals is a bit unique. It's similar to best-of-five, in that the first team to win three games goes on, and tie games will be decided by unlimited sudden-death overtime. However, if a series is tied after game four, there will be no game five; the series will be immediately decided via a shoot-out. The reason for this is, very simply, travel. The KHL will compensate Cup of Hope participants for travel costs, but the amount and distance of travel will still be fairly onerous in a short series, and this odd format is designed to mitigate that.
So what's at stake? Well, the winner of the tournament gets, obviously, the Cup of Hope itself (it is apparently being made at this moment), and about $500,000. The runners-up and losing semi-finalists also get some money. Most interestingly, however, the winner also receives a first-round draft pick, exact spot yet unknown, in the upcoming KHL draft. This alone gives the tournament some teeth; that's an actual hockey benefit up for grabs there.
The KHL has its problems - that is beyond debate. However, in this case, it seems to me that they have had a Good Idea, and have gone ahead and instituted it. The Cup of Hope represents a bit more money for some clubs that may need it, and a bit more game action for their fans. All-in-all, this is an excellent move for the KHL(and, as noted above, I heartily approve of the name!)!
Update: Some others are not so convinced that this is a good idea. I think Zyryanov is being a bit cynical, but he does raise a valid point about the fact that it's quite short-notice, and may pose some arena-booking difficulties. A quick read through the comments indicates that the fans are split on the issue, with perhaps slightly more in favour of the tournament than not. I still like it, although I will concede that the KHL has acted fairly hastily, and it might have been a better idea to start this up next season.