The league formed from the Russian Superleague (RSL) and the champion of the 2007–08 season of the second division, with 24 teams: 21 from Russia and one each from Belarus, Latvia, and Kazakhstan. The teams were divided into four divisions, based on the performance in previous seasons.
The start of the fourth season was overshadowed by the Yaroslavl air disaster on 7 September 2011 in which almost all members of the team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl lost their lives shortly after take-off for their flight to their season opening game in Minsk. The Opening Cup game in Ufa, which was already under way when news of the disaster arrived, was suspended. In memory of the disaster, 7 September remains a day of mourning on which no KHL regular season games are held.
In the 2009–10 season, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg joined the KHL and Khimik Voskresensk was transferred to a lower league. Next season, HC Yugra joined the league.
After several attempts by teams from Central Europe and Scandinavia to join the KHL, expansion beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union was finally realized in 2011. Lev Poprad, a newly founded team based in Poprad, Slovakia was admitted to the league. But after only one season, Lev was replaced by a team of the same name, Lev Praha, from Prague, Czech Republic, while Slovan Bratislava from Slovakia and Ukraine's Donbass joined the KHL as expansion teams. Lev and Slovan qualified for the playoffs in their first KHL season.
In 2013, Medveščak from Croatia and Russian Admiral Vladivostok joined the league, thus expanding the league even further. The league comprised 28 teams during the 2013–14 season, of which 21 are based in Russia and 7 more are located in the other countries.
In 2014, Finnish team Jokerit from Helsinki, Lada Togliatti (which previously played in the league), and newly created team HC Sochi joined the league. However, HC Donbass is not playing in the league this season, due to the political instability in Ukraine, but intends to rejoin later. Two other teams, Lev Praha and Spartak Moscow, also withdrew from the 2014–2015 season due to financial problems.
Prior to the 2015–16 season, Atlant Moscow Oblast withdrew from the KHL, while Spartak Moscow returned.
The Chinese club HC Kunlun Red Star were admitted for the 2016–17 season.
Since 2009, the league has been divided into East and West conferences. In the current season, the Western Conference includes 14 teams divided into two divisions, 7 teams per division. The Eastern Conference has 15 teams, divided into divisions of 7 and 8 respectively. In this season, each team played every other team once at home and once on the road, giving a total of 56 games (28 at home, 28 on the road), plus 4 additional games (2 at home, 2 on the road) played by each team against rival clubs from its own conference. Thus, each team played a total of 60 games in the regular season.
The eight top-ranked teams in each conference receive playoff berths. Within each conference quarterfinals, semifinals and finals are played before the conference winners play against each other for the Gagarin Cup. The division winners are seeded first and second in their conference, based on their regular season record. All playoff rounds are played as best-of-seven series. In each round, the top seeded remaining team is paired with the lowest seeded team etc.
In the 2012–13 season, the Nadezhda Cup (Cup of Hope) was introduced, a consolation tournament for the teams who did not qualify for the playoffs. The winning team in the tournament wins the first overall pick in the KHL Junior Draft. The tournament is intended to extend the season and help maintain interest in hockey in the cities of these teams, and help players of national teams prepare for upcoming World Championship.
a Lada Togliatti formerly played in Kontinental Hockey League from 2008/09 to 2009/10.Kontinental Hockey League on Google Maps
An asterisk (*) denotes a franchise relocation. See the respective team articles for more information.
Though now not as restrictive in maintaining an exclusively Russian composition of players and teams, Russian teams are still not allowed to sign more than five foreign players, while non-Russian teams must have at least five players from their respective country. Foreign goaltenders on Russian teams have a limit regarding total seasonal ice time.
Prior to the inaugural season, several KHL teams signed several players from the NHL. A dispute between the two leagues over some of these signings was supposed to have been resolved by an agreement signed on July 10, 2008, whereby each league would honor the contracts of the other, but the signing of Alexander Radulov was made public one day after the agreement (though it was actually signed two days prior to the agreement taking effect), leading to an investigation by the International Ice Hockey Federation. On 4 October 2010, the conflict between the leagues was settled when both signed a new agreement to honor one another's contracts.
The league set up rules for the NHL lockout which lasted from 16 September 2012 to 12 January 2013. According to the special regulations, each KHL team was allowed to add up to three NHL players to its roster, among them at most one foreign player. More than 40 NHL players, the majority of them Russians, played in the KHL during the lockout.
KHL players are represented by the Kontinental Hockey League Players' Trade Union.
During the current season, players representing 16 nations have played at least one game in the KHL. A player's nationality is for various reasons sometimes ambiguous. For the table presented below, the nationality "is determined based on the last country that the player represented in international competition. If a player has never played for a national team, usually the country of birth is chosen as the player nationality, unless there is strong evidence indicating otherwise". For players born in former Soviet republics, the situation is often more complex due to dual citizenship and naturalization. Therefore, a list of players born in Ukraine gives case-by-case details for some of those players. In some cases, players can change their nationality registration with the league on a year-by-year basis, and their nationality with the league may not match that of their International Ice Hockey Federation registration. Non-Russians represent about 40% of the KHL players, and are mostly Central European, Nordic, and North American. In 2015–16, more than 950 players played in the league (see table below).a – For further information, see: List of Latvians in the KHL
b – For further information, see: List of Ukrainians in the KHL
The winner of the playoff is awarded the Gagarin Cup, the KHL Champion title and the Russian Champion title, regardless of the country the club represents. The team ranked first in the standings after the regular season, i.e. the winner of the regular season, is awarded the Continental Cup (Russian: Кубок Континента, Kubok Kontinenta). The winners of the conference finals are awarded the Eastern Conference Champion Cup (Russian: Кубок Победителю конференции Восток, Kubok Pobeditelyu konferentsii Vostok) and the Western Conference Champion Cup (Russian: Кубок Победителю конференции Запад, Kubok Pobeditelyu konferentsii Zapad).
The KHL presents annual awards to its most successful players. The KHL also awards the Opening Cup annually to the winner of the first game between the Gagarin Cup winner and the runner-up of the previous season. On September 10, 2011, three days after the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster, the KHL head office decided to honor the deceased in the 2011 Opening Cup.
*: In the first season, Salavat Yulaev Ufa was the winner of the regular season, but the Continental Cup was not yet awarded.
Since its foundation in 2008, 35 different clubs have played in the KHL, and 32 of them have at least once qualified for the playoffs. Of the current 29 teams, only Metallurg Novokuznetsk have never qualified for the playoffs yet. The table gives the final regular-season ranks for all teams, with the playoff performance encoded in colors. The teams are ordered by their best championship results.
[a]: Includes record of Dynamo Moscow before the merger with HC MVD in 2010
[b]: Did not participate in the 2011–12 season due to the deadly air disaster on September 7, 2011, that killed the entire team
Total and average attendance in seasons.
The Kontinental Hockey League All-Star Game is an exhibition game held annually in the midway point (usually January or February) of the season, with the league's star players playing against each other. Previously played Russian players versus the "rest of the world", now it is Eastern versus Western Conference.