When SKA St. Petersburg hired Andrei Nazarov to replace Vyacheslav Bykov last month, the big worry involved the sorts of unpleasant headlines that the notoriously hot-headed Nazarov was capable of generating. Well, SKA did not even manage to get fully assembled for training camp before that fear proved well-founded. We’ll chat about that situation, and other coaching-related matters, below the jump!
So, Nazarov. If you haven’t heard the story yet, it involves Dr. Yegor Kozlov, SKA’s now-former team physician. The doctor was relieved of his duties by the club earlier this week, and a meeting with club brass to discuss the matter apparently got out of hand, with Dr. Kozlov ending up in hospital with a concussion. He alleges a beating at the hands of Nazarov; the team denies that any such thing took place, although General Manager Andrei Tochitsky did concede that the meeting was “very unpleasant” (SKA have now released security video footage that they say supports their claim that nothing happened). A complaint was reportedly made to the police in St. Petersburg, although they have not (yet) acted on it. And SKA’s ex-coach Bykov, whose sudden resignation paved the way for Nazarov’s hiring, spoke up today as well, with kind words for Dr. Kozlov. The players are so far keeping schtum, and that is probably a wise decision on their part.
There are obviously many questions demanding answers at this point. To begin with, what the heck actually happened in that meeting? If it was just shouting, as the team claims, how did Dr. Kozlov sustain his injuries? And if Nazarov did beat him up, why the denials from SKA (and why, more to the point, is Nazarov still employed?)? We might also ask why the doctor was let go in the first place, especially after he won the KHL’s award for Team Physician of the Year for 2014-15. There are rumours that the firing was “for cause,” but no one is elaborating on that, and it is equally possible that it was simply part of a changing of the guard with a new coach coming in (the fact that SKA’s new doctor is Dr. Alexander Siganov, who worked with Nazarov at Barys Astana and Donbass Donetsk, hints at this possibility). All very puzzling, and we await more information.
Nobody really comes out a winner in this situation. Dr. Kozlov, obviously, is out of a job and injured. Nazarov, too, may be looking for work soon, and even if he avoids that, his already tattered reputation has undergone a further shredding, fairly or unfairly, just as he gets started in the KHL’s most pressure-filled coaching position. His team faces the choice between looking silly by firing a man they hired only a couple of weeks ago with great fanfare, and looking silly by heading into the pre-season with a coach who is physically abusive of team employees. And the KHL’s own reputation, as well, has been done no good by all of this. One thing is for sure: even if Andrei Nazarov does survive through to opening day as Head Coach of SKA St. Petersburg, he is going to be on a short, short leash, in terms of both on-ice results and his own behaviour.
Mind you, short leashes are the norm for KHL coaches. There is far more turnover at that position, both in-season and during the off-season, than occurs in the NHL and most North American leagues. As we will see in a moment, only four KHL head coaches took up their current jobs earlier than last off-season, and 15 of the league’s 28 teams — 54%, give or take — have hired new bench bosses this Spring (that list does include Spartak, who of course had no coach at all last season due to being out of the KHL). The longest-serving tenants of their current jobs? Mike Keenan (Metallurg Magnitogorsk) and Pēteris Skudra (Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod), who have both now been at those jobs since the off-season of 2013.
The most recent coach hirings occurred just this week, when two teams made their decisions. Dinamo Riga have hired Kari Heikkilä to replace Artis Ābols, who departed for an assistant’s position with Lada Tolyatti when it looked like Dinamo might have to drop out of the KHL. Heikkilä, from Kangasala, Finland, is a well-known figure in Russia, having coached on-and-off for a number of teams in the Russian Superleague and later the KHL since 2004. He began the 2014-15 season in charge of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk, but was fired in October.
And another team whose participation in the upcoming KHL season was only announced late on, Slovan Bratislava, have settled on Czech coach Miloš Říha to lead them into 2015-16. Říha, like Heikkilä, has Russian experience going to the Superleague days — he first appeared there as Head Coach of Khimik Voskresensk in 2005. He is probably best known for leading Atlant Moscow Oblast to a surprising appearance in the Gagarin Cup Final in 2010-11. Říha’s last KHL job was in 2013-14, when he came in mid-season to try to rescue Avangard Omsk from a nightmare of a campaign. He nearly did it too, but Avangard ended up just missing the playoffs, and Říha went off to spend 2014-15 in charge of the Czech Extraliga’s HK Pardubice.
With the hirings in Riga and Bratislava, the KHL now has a full roster of head coaches as the pre-season training camps begin. And so it would be worthwhile to present the complete list, as well as a note on when each coach took his current job. Without further ado, KHL head coaches as of today:
Admiral Vladivostok: Alexander Andriyevsky (replaced Sergei Shepelev this off-season).
Ak Bars Kazan: Zinetula Bilyaletdinov (since Spring, 2014).
Amur Khabarovsk: Sergei Shepelev (replaced Jukka Rautakorpi this off-season).
Avangard Omsk Oblast: Yevgeny Kornoukhov (replaced Raimo Summanen this off-season).
Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg: Andrei Razin (replaced Anatoly Yemelin this off-season).
Barys Astana: Erlan Sagymbaev (replaced Andrei Nazarov this off-season).
CSKA Moscow: Dmitry Kvartalnov (since Spring, 2014)
Dinamo Minsk: Ľubomír Pokovič (since mid-season, 2013-14).
Dinamo Riga: Kari Heikkilä (replaced Artis Ābols this off-season).
Dynamo Moscow: Harijs Vītoliņš (since Spring, 2014).
HK Sochi: Vyacheslav Butsayev (since Spring, 2014).
Jokerit Helsinki: Erkka Westerlund (since Spring, 2014).
Lada Tolyatti: Sergei Svetlov (since Spring, 2014).
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl: Alexei Kudashov (replaced Dave King this off-season).
Medveščak Zagreb: Gordie Dwyer (replaced Doug Shedden this off-season).
Metallurg Magnitogorsk: Mike Keenan (since Spring, 2013).
Metallurg Novokuznetsk: Nikolai Solovyov (replaced German Titov this off-season).
Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk: Vladimir Krikunov (since mid-season, 2014-15).
Salavat Yulaev Ufa: Anatoly Yemelin (replaced Vladimir Yurzinov this off-season).
Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast: Andrei Skabelka (since Spring, 2014).
Severstal Cherepovets: Václav Sýkora (replaced Igor Petrov this off-season).
SKA St. Petersburg: Andrei Nazarov (replaced Vyacheslav Bykov this off-season).
Slovan Bratislava: Miloš Říha (replaced Petri Matikainen this off-season).
Spartak Moscow: German Titov (hired this off-season).
Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod: Pēteris Skudra (since Spring, 2013).
Traktor Chelyabinsk: Andrei Nikolishin (since mid-season, 2014-15).
Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk: Pavel Yezovskikh (replaced Andrei Potaichuk this off-season).
Vityaz Moscow Oblast: Oleg Orekhovsky (since mid-season, 2013-14).
Of course, this list will not entirely survive the 2015-16 season — in fact, it will be lucky to make it to early October. And, depending on what news the next few days bring from St. Petersburg, it could be seeing its first change in the very near future indeed!