2015-16 Comings & Goings: Team Edition
The KHL rang down the curtain on the 2014-15 campaign on Wednesday, with its formal Closing Ceremony and Awards Show. You can read the full-rundown of trophies handed out here, but we now turn our attention to the new season, which officially begins this weekend at the 2015 Junior Fair (i.e. the Draft, in North American parlance). For some months, the economic and geopolitical situation — not to mention tighter financial regulations in the KHL itself — had strongly suggested that this Summer was going to represent “interesting times” for the league. New KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko has been quite up-front about the idea that we are going to say “good-bye” to some of its 28 member teams. So who is likely to be leaving the flock, and will anyone be along to replace them? Read on, for discussion of where matters stand now on the roster of teams for the 2015-16 season (with lots of links)!
Let us start with the bad news. Atlant Moscow Oblast, based just to the north-east of the capital in Mytishchi, have been on life-support for months (the team only survived the season thanks to some financial help from SKA St. Petersburg), and this week came the official announcement that attempts to find a saviour had failed. Whether Atlant can scrape together enough money to play next season in the VHL, Russia’s second division, remains to be seen, but they are definitely out of the KHL picture for now. The same, in all likelihood, applies to Slovan Bratislava, the league’s lone representative in Slovakia. Although attempts to arrange sponsorship for Slovan are apparently continuing, it is significant that the famous old club (it was founded in 1921) has already applied for membership next season in the Slovak Extraliga. So I think we can inscribe two names in “Definitely Gone” column.
There are also serious issues involving several months’ worth of unpaid wages embroiling two KHL teams: HK Sochi and Barys Astana. The players for the Sochi club, just founded last year as a tenant for the Olympic arena in that Black Sea resort city, have now applied to both the KHL Disciplinary Committee and the State Prosecutor’s Office for redress. And the KHL Players’ Union, which has grown some teeth since former NHL player Andrei Kovalenko took over as its head, has indicated that it will ask the league to expel Barys if the wage arrears there are not dealt with by the end of May. Both Barys and Sochi are proceeding with off-season new signings, and there is time in both cases to sort things out (there was a smidgen of hope this week on the Sochi front), but it remains distinctly possible that one or both will not be around next season.
And then there are the teams around which there are, shall we say, rumblings. In the Far East, both Amur Khabarovsk and Admiral Vladivostok say they are owed money by some of their sponsors, and fans of both teams have been penning open letters to local and national government bodies asking for help to keep the clubs going. Furthermore, neither team will have been pleased to hear Russian national squad General Manager Andrei Safronov musing that the difficulties of travel to the further reaches of the country was hurting performances at the international level. A “wait and see” approach on the fates of Amur and Admiral is probably in order, but we also have to say that there is ample cause for concern.
So those are the crises that seem to be flaring up seriously right now. Experience tells us that some of them will be resolved satisfactorily and some will not, and also that we should be alert to the possibility of new problems arising, especially under the current circumstances (e.g., should we be worried about Jokerit Helsinki? Probably not, based on the linked article, but still…).
But what of good news? Well, there is certainly some of that going around too! The KHL’s Croatian club, Medveščak Zagreb, had serious doubts raised earlier this year about its continued participation, but team President Damir Gojanović recently stated quite firmly that his squad is in for 2015-16. In Latvia, meanwhile, the situation involving Dinamo Riga is less certain, but there seem to have been some positive developments. We wait, on that one, for some kind of official announcement, but the omens are looking good for now.
But the biggest cheerful item of recent KHL team news involves the return of Spartak Moscow to the fold. Spartak, four times Champions of the Soviet Union back in the day, missed the entire 2014-15 season due to financial problems, the second time in recent years that insolvency had forced the club to miss a year of action. However, it has been well-known for some months that strenuous efforts were underway to resurrect the team, and this week Gennady Timchenko, Chairman of the KHL Board of Directors, delivered the happy news that this work had come to fruition; Spartak are back. The head coach is likely to be German Titov, late of Metallurg Novokuznetsk, and the revived team will probably provide employment for some of the players who have lost their jobs with the disbanding of Atlant. For the first time since December of 2013, when the original crisis struck, talk of Spartak can turn to what they will get up to on the ice, rather than in the boardroom.
We will finish up with an intriguing note. KHL President Chernyshenko spoke this week of the real possibility of a new outpost for the league — in this case, Shanghai, China. China is one of two countries bidding to host the 2022 Winter Olympics (the other is Kazakhstan), and is apparently looking to step up its development of hockey to that end. The 2018 Games will also be in Asia, namely South Korea, with does not hurt matters. The Shanghai KHL team, if it does become a reality, will almost certainly not be ready for 2015-16, of course, but the league may very well hold a regular season game in China this coming season, just to whet everybody’s appetite. While there has long been chit-chat and speculation about the KHL’s plans in the region, this week’s developments represent by far the most serious and “official” moves in that direction, and it should be very interesting to see what happens next.
That’s it for this time! At some point not too far hence — although probably not the next post — we’ll look at the interesting off-season players moves into, out of, and within the KHL. In the meantime, we’ll be keeping an eye on the stories mentioned here, as well as any others that might crop up!