Catching up on News Notes: League Intrigue
We head into an important week in terms of Russian hockey at this point, and of course we are also just 20 days or so from the start of KHL training camps for 2016-17. So it would probably be a good idea at this point to take a quick look at what some of the big stories involving the KHL, VHL, and MHL have been this spring. Read on…
Before we start, however, the big news in the hockey world this past week was obviously the death of Gordie Howe, the man known to many simply as “Mr. Hockey.” His accomplishments over a span of more than a 30 years as a player, and that many again as an ambassador and general legend of the sport, are too many to go into here. However, I would like to mention one lesser-known episode in Howe’s career. The 1974 Summit Series, the second such tournament after the more famous 1972 edition, saw the USSR face off against a Team Canada composed of players from the upstart WHA — Howe, then of the Houston Aeros, among them. The Soviet Union won the eight-game series with four victories and three draws, but Howe, despite being 46 years old and facing some of the best players on the planet, scored three goals and added four assists in the seven matches he played. A remarkable performance, by any standard! Rest in Peace, Mr. Howe.
This may be something of a tense week in the KHL. The league recently declared that teams still owing wage payments to players may not be admitted for the 2016-17 season, and that June 15th — this coming Wednesday — would be the deadline for teams in that position to get things sorted out. League President Dmitry Chernyshenko also stated that there were eight teams affected by that announcement. Now, it is highly, highly, unlikely that Thursday morning will find the KHL reduced to 20 teams (pending the arrival of Red Star Kunlun Beijing), but the fact that Chernysheno has put has foot down on this issue is nonetheless a sign that the league is willing to take some tough measures to get the financial house in better order.
As for eight delinquent clubs, they were not specifically named, but we can make some educated guesses. There has been talk of financial difficulties at Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, including wage arrears, so they are almost certainly on the list. There is some good news there, however — sports teams in the area will apparently receive free use of their facilities this coming year. Amur Khabarovsk had earlier admitted to owing some money, and it appears that there may still be some problems there. Dynamo Moscow have had ominous talk surrounding them for several months now, and in fact have already been given an extension to June 30th to provide financial guarantees for next season. And Admiral Vladivostok, although they have submitted their financial guarantees for the coming season, are said to owe money as well. So those may make up at least part of the list. As for the others, there are certainly “suspects” but not really enough information to say for sure.
The Wednesday deadline will likely be the big news of the week, but there are a couple of other items to keep an eye on. We are getting some clarity on how things will work in the VHL next year; you may recall that there was talk of creating a rival KHL “farm league” this spring. It now appears that the new league will simply be merged with the VHL, with the whole thing to be run by the Russian Hockey Federation. If that does turn out to be the case, there may not be a great deal of noticeable difference between next season’s Bratina Cup campaign and the last one. However, there are still some organizational issues to be worked out, and we will keep you posted on interesting developments in that regard.
The junior MHL, as well, should function much like it did this past season. However, one note of interest has emerged in the last couple of weeks. It sounds like the Russian Under-18 national team, which competed as an MHL club in 2015-16, will not take part in the 2016-17 campaign. The U18s did very well in their first MHL season, taking top spot in the West Conference during the regular season, but it all ended in controversy when the team was unable to take part in the IIHF Under-18 World Championship due to concerns about doping. Their withdrawal from the MHL is not 100% confirmed, and may not be permanent in any case, so there is a decent chance that we will see them again in league play at some point.
A final note — there was a sad bit of news from the KHL this past week, with the death of Matroska, feline denizen of the Fetisov Arena, where Admiral Vladivostok play. Matroska, whom vets estimated had been a street cat for about ten years, was adopted by the team after she was caught raiding the seafood shop at Vladivostok’s airport in 2014, and became a very popular figure among the Admiral players and fans (the players will donate to a local animal rescue agency in her memory). The team has announced that a monument will be set up in her memory outside the rink.
Next task, as we get caught up on the news of the off-season in Russian hockey, will be to take a look at some of the bigger player moves in the KHL and elsewhere — look for that around Tuesday. Thank you for reading, and of course congratulations to Mr. Yevgeny Malkin, Mr. Sergei Gonchar (the second Russian, after and the Pittsburgh Penguins, Stanley Cup Champions of 2015-16!