Weekly Russian Hockey News Notes: June 26th, 2015
Here we are with another week’s worth of news from the world of Russian hockey! The NHL draft wrapped up today, with 17 Russians taken through all seven rounds. Elsewhere, we had the conclusion of the SKA coaching saga that began last week, the arrival of a hot goalie in the Far East, some political news, and the usual (and unusual!) off-season transactions. Read on!
The stunningly unexpected coaching vacancy at SKA St. Petersburg has been filled, and, as looked likely when we discussed it last week, it will be Andrei Nazarov taking the helm. Nazarov has, obviously, relinquished his jobs in charge of Barys Astana and the Kazakh national team, and we still await word on his replacements there (we assume it will be the same person taking both posts in Kazakhstan).
The reaction to the Nazarov hiring among SKA fans has been, as far as I have seen, ambivalent or negative. The former NHL enforcer has had some successes in his career as a coach — guiding unfashionable Severstal Cherepovets to second round of the playoffs in 2012-13 is one that stands out for me — but how much of that was coaching and how much was on-ice talent is open for discussion (that Severstal team, for example, boasted current SKA star Vadim Shipachyov and and a top-notch goalie in Vasily Koshechkin). And of course, he is justly notorious for losing his temper (check last week’s News Notes for some “highlights” of that). For a more in-depth look at what Nazarov might bring, and might not bring, to the SKA table, I invite you to check out this excellent piece.
Nazarov’s teams, old and new, were busy on the player acquisition side of things this week. Barys Astana will reportedly salve the pain of their coach’s departure by re-signing forward Nigel Dawes to a three-year contract. That is a very important move; Dawes was second in the KHL in goals last season with 32 (his overall line was 60 gp, 32-24-56), and for several seasons now Barys have relied massively on the scoring provided by their first line of Dawes, Brandon Bochenski, and Dustin Boyd.
SKA, meanwhile, signed Yevgeny Artyukhin. The massive forward (6’5″ and 265 lbs.), 32 years old, has NHL time in his past with Tampa Bay, Anaheim, and Atlanta, and scored 4-8-12 in 48 games last year for CSKA Moscow. However, he’s not known for his scoring. Artyukhin has led the KHL in penalty minutes in each of the last three seasons, amassing 456 of them in 122 games over that span. Like Nazarov, he’s been before the KHL Disciplinary Committee more than once…
Interesting hockey-related doings in the Russian State Duma this week, as the nation’s top legislative body has passed a law allowing the government, through the Ministry of Sport, to set limits on the number of foreign players in Russia’s various sports leagues. The issue of foreign players has long been a bone of contention between the Russian Hockey Federation and the KHL, with the former wanting fewer outsiders and the league wanting to make its own rules on the issue. So the new law looks like a clear, even decisive, victory for the Federation, which operates as part of the Ministry.
However, it may also be a tempest in a teapot. Federation President Vladislav Tretyak has already indicated that the limit on foreign players on Russian KHL teams will remain at its previous level of five for the coming year, after which things may be revisited, or they may not. And the KHL can certainly call on some political clout of its own in the matter, if it starts to feel pressed. I suspect that things will remain as they are for the near future at least.
All that remains to be determined is the status of players from Belarus. For the 2014-15 KHL season, Belarusans counted as Russian, but whether this will continue has yet to be decided for sure.
One of the off-season’s ongoing stories finished off in the last few days with an odd transaction that saw 24 players transferred from SKA St. Petersburg to Spartak Moscow, in return for money. That’s right, twenty-four. So how did this happen? Well, back in December, when Atlant Moscow Oblast were in deep financial difficulties, they sold the 24 contracts to SKA for enough money to get through the season. SKA then essentially loaned the players back to Atlant until the end of the campaign. Once 2014-15 was over, Atlant did indeed fold, and the contracts became SKA’s property. However, by that time the Spartak Moscow revival project was nearing fruition and needing players, and so off the 24 go again, en bloc. Thus, in one fell swoop, the KHL avoided the difficulty of having a team fold in mid-season AND managed to supply an incoming club with a bunch of players without the need for an expansion draft.
Now, these are not “big name,” players moving over to Spartak — most of them have mid-1990s birthdays, and will likely spend most of 2015-16 in the junior ranks somewhere. The most recognizable fellow is probably Finnish goalie Atte Engren, who posted a .915 save percentage in 56 games for Atlant last season.
Back in 2013-14, when the previous Spartak incarnation was having money troubles, a similar thing seems to have happened. Spartak got through the season, after which a large number of their young players officially became employees of SKA, although in this case they stayed there for 2014-15. Among them was goalie Igor Shestyorkin (whom I actually got to see play in person last fall, during the Subway Super Series — he was excellent), and there is now talk that he, too, will return to Spartak. An opening-night duo of Engren and Shestyorkin should be perfectly satisfactory to the Spartak front office.
Apart from that big move, among the busier teams this past week were Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, who made three small trades. First, they acquired defenseman Denis Kuzmin, a Nizhnekamsk native, from Admiral Vladivostok for the Alshevsky brothers (Stanislav and Yaroslav, both forwards). Kuzmin, now 26 years old, played his first full KHL season last year, scoring 3-9-12 in 57 games for Admiral. Stanislav and Yaroslav Alshevsky, 24-year-old twins, are both low-scoring types, or at least have been in their KHL careers so far. However, Yaroslav in particular has nice numbers in his MHL and VHL past, so there may be something there.
Neftekhimik also sent young defenseman Kirill Dyakov (just a budding KHLer, but junior and minor-league numbers suggest he can score) to Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk for cash, and rounded out their activity by sending another prospect blueliner, Artur Amirov (seems to be a more defensive type) to Metallurg Novokuznetsk for a 5th-round pick. Nothing earthshaking in these moves, but some interesting pieces nonetheless.
Opting for quality over quantity this week were Amur Khabarovsk, who made what may be one of the summer’s best signings. The easterners have picked up goalie Juha Metsola from Tappara of the Finnish Liiga. Metsola had a .936 save percentage in 57 games for the Liiga runners-up, and won the Urpo Ylönen Award as the country’s best netminder. So why has the NHL not come calling for the 26-year-old, who spent a couple of seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes back in his junior days? Well, he’s 5’10” and weighs 160 lbs., and that’s likely to scare off the North American scouts.
In any case, it’s a great signing by Amur, and should nudge them at least a bit closer to that elusive playoff spot.
We haven’t talked much at this blog about women’s hockey in Russia, although that will change in the coming months. However, there was an interesting interview out yesterday with Vladislav Tretyak, in which he stated that the Russian Women’s Hockey League will have nine teams for the coming season. The professional RWHL was, up until this off-season, run by the national federation, but now will play under the auspices of the KHL, which should help in the area of marketing and the like.
More on the RWHL’s plans for 2015-16 as they become evident!
Note that in the interview linked just above, Tretyak also announced that there is no imminent transfer agreement between the KHL and the NHL. It was recently rumoured that the two leagues would come to an agreement through which under-contract players in one league could be acquired by teams in the other for payment of a fee. It now appears that the two leagues will continue to operate vis-a-vis each other on the basis of the existing Memorandum of Agreement, which stipulates that under-contract players are off-limits.
Formerly independent junior team Sakhalinskie Akuly (The “Sakhalin Sharks” based out of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) will affiliate with Admiral Vladivostok for the coming season. That change of status will presumably allow the Sharks to maintain their spot in the top MHL division (MHL-A), which it appears will now restrict membership to those junior teams that have KHL affiliation. It’s an excellent move in terms of hockey development in the Far East!
There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on in Montreal, where young Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk fired his agents this week in the midst of some tricky contract negotiations. The 21-year-old Galchenyuk, who scored 20-26-46 in 80 games for the Habs last season, is American-born, and has represented the U.S. on the international stage, but has dual nationality with Russia (his father, also Alexander, played for Dynamo Moscow in the Soviet Championship and later for Belarus at the Olympics). This has led to some talk of young Alex taking a sabbatical in the KHL, if he and the Canadiens can’t come to an agreement. However, that seems a bit unlikely, and I expect that the two sides will get something done eventually.
As for the fired agents, they are Ian Pulver and Soviet hockey legend Igor Larionov, the latter of whom seemed a bit exasperated by the whole thing. Pat Brisson will represent Galchenyuk from here on.
It’s been no secret for some time that Lokomotiv Yaroslavl forward Sergei Plotnikov was going to try his NHL luck this coming season, but this week we finally got a hint as to the team. The NHL’s own website is reporting talks between Plotnikov and the Penguins, who are also said, per that article, to be interested in SKA St. Petersburg’s Viktor Tikhonov. There’s nothing final here, but all signs point to Plotnikov in Pittsburgh next season.
Plotnikov is a 25-year-old from Russia’s Far East (Komsomolsk-na-Amure, to be precise). He can score a bit (15-21-36 in 56 games last season), and also knows where the penalty box is, having accumulated 159 PiM in 109 matches over the last two campaigns. Plotnikov is also a decent size for the NHL, at 6’2″ and 205 lbs. The Penguins should be able to find a use for him.
And, a few other interesting transactions:
Dinamo Riga have gone the AHL route in the hunt for a goalie for 2015-16, inking 25-year-old Swede Joacim Eriksson to a deal. He posted a .908 save percentage in 41 games last year for Vancouver’s farm club in Utica — that’s far from eye-popping, but there is some evidence from Eriksson’s earlier career in Sweden to suggest that this could be an excellent signing. We shall see.
I normally wouldn’t mention a veteran depth forward changing teams (that sort of thing happens all the time), but the historically-minded may be interested to see that 31-year-old Alexei Krutov (50 gp, 3-9-12) has moved from HK Sochi to Spartak Moscow. That’s the son of the late Vladimir Krutov, 1980s linemate of Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov with Red Army and the Soviet national team. Former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney also departed the Black Sea club, for MODO of the Swedish league.
In Croatia, another former NHLer will be playing KHL hockey this coming season. Czech forward Radek Smoleňák, former prospect of the Lightning and Blackhawks, has joined Medveščak Zagreb from the afore-mentioned MODO. Smoleňák, now 28 years old, has never blossomed into the sort of scorer his junior hockey numbers seemed to promise, but there’s value there — he can find the net. His arrival will help off-set the departure of Pascal Pelletier, who posted a very nice 59 gp, 16-23-39 for Medveščak last season (best on the team in points and assists), but will ply his trade for Admiral in 2015-16.
There were some other moves, but those were the ones that particularly caught my eye.
And we’ll finish with the story on young Yevgeny Svechnikov, drafted on Friday, 19th overall, by the Detroit Red Wings. Svechnikov, I am almost entirely sure, is the first NHL-drafted player from the island of Sakhalin, off the east coast of Russia. Sources, however, differ on exactly where he was born, with some naming the island’s capital city (Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk — see above) and others listing the northerly oil town of Neftegorsk.
The reason for the confusion? On May 27th, 1995 — about 17 months before Svechnikov was born — Neftegorsk was hit by an appalling earthquake that all but leveled the place, killing two-thirds of the roughly 3000 inhabitants. Most of the survivors, including Svechnikov’s parents, were relocated en masse to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and the site of Neftegorsk was left abandoned (all that remains is a memorial to the earthquake’s victims). And so, as near as I can determine, Yevgeny was actually born in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, but as one of the “people of Neftegorsk.” In any case, the family later moved to Barnaul, and Svechnikov came up through the hockey ranks in the youth system of Ak Bars Kazan. He joined the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2014.
That’s all for this time! More next week, including a mid-week post of some sort!