According to league commissioner Alexander Medvedev, the Cup was named after Gagarin because Russian citizens associate his name with the achievement of great accomplishments, and the man himself has been described as a symbol of the nation. Additionally, according to the founders of the KHL, his ascent into space serves as a metaphor for the contemporary Soviet breakthrough in hockey. Gagarin himself did play hockey, albeit not at a level comparable to that of the KHL.
Another candidate for the namesake of the Cup was longtime HC CSKA Moscow and Soviet national team coach Anatoli Tarasov, considered the "father of Soviet hockey". It was later decided that one of the four divisions would bear his name.