Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: June 5th, 2015

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Spartak Moscow star Vyacheslav Starshinov celebrates a goal for the Soviet national team against Czechoslovakia in 1966. (Image Source)

“Today, a great weight has been lifted from Spartak’s shoulders,” said Vyacheslav Starshinov on Wednesday, and with that, the legendary Moscow team is officially back in the KHL after missing out on 2014-15 due to financial problems.  That was, obviously, the big news this week — we’ll discuss it and some other matters (players and coaches on the move, the Spengler Cup, and so on), with lots of links, below the jump!

The front office and coaching ranks of the revived Spartak will be full of familiar hockey names.  Starshinov, the first player to score 400 goals in the Soviet Championship, will be President, while the Chairman of the Board of Trustees is Alexander Yakushev, who led the USSR in scoring at the 1972 Summit Series.  A third 1960s-era Spartak veteran, Boris Mayorov, will head the Alumni Board.  In the General Manager’s seat is ex-NHLer Alexei Zhamnov, and former Colorado Avalanche standout Valery Kamensky will be Vice-President.  German Titov, whom Calgary Flames fans may remember, is the team’s new Head Coach, and he will be assisted by two other men who played in North America: Igor Ulanov and the just-retired Vyacheslav Kozlov.

As for the players pulling on the famous red sweater in 2015-16, the roster will bear some resemblance to now-defunct Atlant Moscow Oblast’s 2014-15 lineup.  A number of Atlant players were transferred to SKA St. Petersburg at the end of the season, part of a deal that saw SKA put up the money that allowed Atlant to finish the campaign, and they have all now been dispatched en bloc to Spartak.  One of them is Finnish goalie Atte Engren, who should be a very key part of Spartak’s return season.  Among the non-Atlant signings that Spartak have made are Alexander Radulov’s brother Igor, signed from HK Sochi, and some others we’ll discuss as we go along.

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Spartak Moscow (Image Source)

Given the financial troubles that caused Spartak to miss last season in the first place, one of the important questions this past week involved who the team’s new general sponsor would be.  It turns out that it will be the giant oilfield services company ERIELL, and the number being batted around today is one billion Rubles as the club’s total budget for next year.  As for where they will play, it looks like Spartak will first take the ice at the Luzhniki Minor Arena, former home of Dynamo Moscow (Dynamo will be playing at the brand new VTB Ice Palace this coming season).  In time, Spartak will likely be moving to the Megasport Arena (it is currently having major work done on it, and so is unavailable).  Their old home, the Sokolniki Arena, is no longer suitable for KHL play, but will remain in use as a practice facility.

Welcome back, Spartak – this is great news!

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There was a major departure from one of the KHL’s top teams this past week, as goalie Anders Nilsson is apparently leaving Ak Bars Kazan.  The 25-year-old Swede, a giant at 6’5″ and 235 lbs., was spectacular for the Tatar club in 2014-15 — his .936 save percentage in 38 regular season games was behind only Alexander Lazushin’s .946 among KHL netminders.  And Nilsson was every bit as good in the playoffs, posting a .935 sv% and setting a new KHL post-season record with six shutouts as Ak Bars rambled all the way to the Gagarin Cup Final.  As for his destination next season, the rumour mill speaks of the NHL, where the Chicago Blackhawks hold his rights.

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Ābols gives some pointers to Indrašis in 2013. (Image Source)

Speaking of departures, head coach Artis Ābols has said “good-bye” to Dinamo Riga and packed his bags for Tolyatti, where he will be one of Sergei Svetlov’s assistants at Lada.  No word yet on Ābols’ replacement at Dinamo, where it’s been a bit of a glum off-season so far.  Also departing the Latvian club this week were forward Kyle Wilson (joining MODO in Sweden) and defenseman Chad Genoway (headed to Spartak).  And there are rumours that highly-useful forward Miks Indrašis will depart either for North America or for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.  The talk of Dinamo dropping out of the KHL has pretty much died away at this point, which is good, but they do need to get some names on contracts fairly promptly — we’re a month away from pre-season training, and the current roster contains only seven players (per Elite Prospects).

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There’s a certain “Hershey Bears” flavour to the news notes this time around.  Both Wilson and Genoway, mentioned above, used to play for the Washington Capitals’ AHL affiliate, and a couple of other now-former Bears will be featuring in the KHL in 2015-16.  Forward Tim Kennedy, who led Hershey in points this past season with a line of 11-48-59 in 75 games, has signed with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk.  He will at some point face the Bears’ second-highest scorer, Casey Wellman (73 gp, 25-29-54), who has put pen to paper for Spartak.

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Damir Zhafyarov with CSKA in 2014-15. (Image Source)

A very interesting trade between Sibir Novosibirsk and CSKA Moscow this week.  Heading to the capital are forward Dmitry Kugryshev (49 gp, 17-29-46 in 2014-15) and defenseman Igor Ozhiganov (59 gp, 8-13-21), in return for forward Damir Zhafyarov (49 gp, 7-2-9) and cash.  At first glance, it’s lopsided in CSKA’s favour — Kugryshev led Sibir in scoring last season, and Ozhiganov was behind only Patrik Hersley in points from the defense corps.  And Kugryshev is the eldest of the two, at only 25 (Ozhiganov is 22).  The deal makes CSKA instantly better, without a doubt.

However, Zhafyarov, a product of the impressive development program at Metallurg Novokuznetsk, may turn out to be a nice pick-up (full disclosure: I’ve been a fan of his for awhile).  A 21-year-old water-bug of a forward (he’s listed at 5’8″, 143 lbs.), he was buried behind CSKA’s league-best scoring talent, seeing less than ten minutes of ice-time per game, and should shine in a more prominent role as he gains experience, especially if Sibir uses some of that incoming money to find him a solid play-maker as a line-mate.

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Ozhiganov wasn’t the only defenseman joining the CSKA ranks via trade this week, as Salavat Yulaev’s Alexander Kutuzov (60 gp, 7-13-20) also arrived.  Heading the other way were two players: Swedish forward Andreas Engvist (50 gp, 17-18-35) and fellow front-liner Nikolai Prokhorkin (41 gp, 9-11-20).  Good players both, but neither is signed for the coming season.  Engvist, who spent most of 2014-15 with Atlant before heading to CSKA, was injured in the playoffs and the date of his return to action is unknown.   The 21-year-old Prokhorkin, meanwhile, broke out in a big way in 2013-14, with 37 points in 52 games, before slumping drastically last season — he actually ended up banished to the VHL for a stretch.  Despite the down year, the NHL remains a possibility for him, with the L.A. Kings currently holding his North American rights.  We’ll see if either player suits up for Salavat Yulaev in 2015-16.

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Jokerit Helsinki are looking to the Kingdom of Denmark a little bit as they set up their roster for this coming season.  Defenseman Jesper B. Jensen this week became the second Dane to sign with Jokerit this off-season, coming in from Färjestad of the Swedish league.  He will join countryman Philip Larsen, who earlier arrived from Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk.

Update: Thanks to Adam Summers for pointing out that Jokerit have now signed THREE Danish players this off-season!  The Chicago Blackhawks’ Peter Regin, who spent most of 2014-15 with Rockford of the AHL, joined Jokerit about a month ago.

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Ivan Kasutin guards the net for Torpedo in 2014-15. (Image Source)

A few other player moves of interest: Czech forwards Marek Kvapil and Tomáš Mertl will become the first representatives of their country at Medveščak Zagreb (Kvapil is of particular interest, with a couple of Gagarin Cup rings earned playing for Dynamo Moscow).  Lada, meanwhile, have signed Torpedo’s Ivan Kasutin to reinforce their goaltending.  He will likely be replaced in Nizhny Novgorod by the similarly-named Ivan Lisutin, late of Vityaz Moscow Oblast.  And former NHLer Nikolai Zherdev has signed a one-year deal with HK Sochi.

Also, some very good news!  Slovak defenseman Kristián Kudroč, who suffered a serious head injury during the 2014-15 pre-season while playing for Avangard Omsk against Barys in Astana, is finally able to return to the ice, which he will do as a member of Metallurg Novokuznetsk.  Eerily, Kudroč’s injury came just a few months before his Avangard team-mate Sergei Kalinin suffered a similar trauma against the same opponents in the same building (neither incident, I should make very clear, was the result of any dirty play on the part of Barys).

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The team lineup for the 2015 Spengler Cup has been finalized!  Last year’s edition of the annual get-together hosted by HC Davos in Switzerland featured three KHL sides — Jokerit Helsinki, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and Medveščak Zagreb.  In 2015, there will be two: Jokerit are returning for a second straight year, and Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg will make their Spengler Cup debut.  The two will join HC Davos, another Swiss league team in HC Lugano, Team Canada, and Adler Mannheim of the DEL in the tournament, which begins on December 26th.

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The last KHL team to win the trophy was SKA St. Petersburg, in 2010. (Image Source)

 

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There has been a little more fallout from the situation in the Far East that we discussed last week — you may recall that most of the Admiral Vladivostok front office headed up the M60 highway to Khabarovsk to take similar positions at Amur.  Their replacements are now coming in; former Dynamo Moscow player and CSKA executive Ildar Mukhometov will be Admiral’s new Sports Director, while the head coaching job in Vladivostok will be handled by Alexander Andrievsky.  As an interesting historical note, Andrievsky was part of the Belarus team that stunningly defeated Sweden in the quarterfinals of the 2002 Olympics.  Meanwhile, there are rumours that a large number of Admiral’s players will also make the switch to Amur, and neither club is 100% confirmed for KHL membership next season, so this is most definitely a situation to watch.

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In other items related to the full KHL team lineup for 2015-16… well, there wasn’t much beyond the Spartak story.  However, a bit of good news from HK Sochi; it seems that the club is now debt-free, at least as far as back-wages are concerned.

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The late Valery Belousov at work. (Image Source)

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And that’s probably enough for this week, but we’ll finish off with a bit of rather nice arena-related news from Chelyabinsk.  Traktor have announced that they will rename their home rink in honour of former coach Valery Belousov, who passed away in April.

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Thank you for reading!  More news notes to come next Friday, and there will be other things in the meantime.

 

 

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Posted on June 6, 2015, in 2015-16, KHL, Weekly News Notes. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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