News Note: Clarity on the KHL Team Lineup
Well, more clarity, in any case! The news actually arrived a bit quicker than expected — we had been looking to early July — but it is now official: Red Star Kunlun Beijing, the KHL’s first ever club based in China, have been formally accepted to the league and will take part in the 2016-17 season. While time is a bit short for the team to assemble its roster, the KHL season is still two months away, so the situation is not absolutley desperate, and a number of NHL and AHL players will be free agents as of late next week. Opportunity is there.
Read on for a bit more about Red Star Kunlun, and some other, more ominous, news about next season’s KHL lineup.
So what do we know about the personnel of Red Star Kunlun? Well, in early June, the Chinese team hired Vladimir Krechin away from the GM’s post at junior club Krylya Sovetov Moscow to serve as General Director. Krechin was a longtime player for Traktor Chelyabinsk (he also spent three years as a Windsor Spitfire in the early 1990s), and he also served as Traktor’s VP of Hockey Operations from 2010-2014. So he has some front office experience, and it should be noted that Traktor made the Gagarin Cup semifinals twice, and the finals once, during his four seasons in charge (they also missed the playoffs twice, so there’s that too).
As for coaches, it seems almost certain that Vladimir Yurzinov, Jr., will be Red Star Kunlun’s first Head Coach. While he does not have his father’s coaching resume — the elder Vladimir coached Dynamo Moscow and Dinamo Riga in Soviet days and was Viktor Tikhonov’s longtime assistant with the USSR’s national team — Yurzinov, Jr. does have ample experience. He coached for many years in the Finnish league, and also guided Sibir Novosibirsk and Salavat Yulaev Ufa in the KHL. Reports suggest that Alexei Tertushny, who last season was bench boss of Ugra Khanty-Manisysk’s junior team in the MHL, will be Yurzinov’s assistant at Red Star Kunlun.
The new Chinese team has made no player signings just yet, understandably, but we will doubtless see some moves there soon. There was wild talk back in April of the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk and/or Danis Zaripov heading to Beijing, but the most credible recent rumours mostly surround Mikhail Anisin. The tiny (5’5″, 150 lbs.) 28-year-old forward, son of the Vyacheslav Anisin who played for the Soviet Union at the 1972 Summit Series, had disciplinary issues early in his career, and as a result has passed through eight different KHL teams. However, the last couple of years have seen him settle down a bit at HK Sochi, during which time he has posted a line of 96 gp, 24-27-51. He would, I think, be a decent first signing for Red Star Kunlun if the rumours turn out to be true.
In any case, Red Star Kunlun are underway on their KHL adventure, and we will of course be keeping an eye here on how they do. Once the regular season gets going, their home games will be played at the LeSports Center in the Chinese capital. However, right now it appears that the team will play its first actual game, a pre-season exhibition tilt, against Traktor Chelyabinsk on July 24th, in the little village of Vierumäki, Finland.
Turning to the less-happy news mentioned above. Rumours this month have suggested that as many as eight or ten existing KHL teams were in financial difficulties, either through wage arrears from last season or through lack of sponsorship money. And on Friday KHL Players’ Union President Andrei Kovalenko named the teams potentially in trouble with debt: Admiral Vladivostok, Medveščak Zagreb, Slovan Bratislava, Barys Astana, Sibir Novosibirsk, Metallurg Novokuznetsk, Lada Tolyatti, HK Sochi, and Dynamo Moscow. We should also note that Dinamo Riga, while not in debt, are said to be experiencing difficulties in finding funding for next season. Finally, there has been a lot of talk about trouble at Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod this off-season, although those rumours have died away recently, so the problems there may have been solved.
Of course, we should not go scrubbing any of those teams off the KHL list just yet, even if the deadline to sort things out is fast approaching (it is June 30th). Kovalenko did say that he had received verbal assurances from Metallurg and Admiral that things would be resolved quickly. And within hours of Kovalenko’s statement, Dynamo Moscow General Director Andrei Safronov stated that the team had paid all debts, and would provide financial guarantees to the league on Monday or Tuesday. So there is some reason to be at least cautiously optimistic that all will be well. Nevertheless, the situations at the clubs named by Kovalenko bear watching, and we should probably be prepared for the possibility of bad news at some point next week. We shall see, and we shall keep you posted.
Whatever happens, there will be a full edition of news notes (hopefully without bad tidings) along on Monday or Tuesday — confirmed items include some doings in the MHL, a coaching change at the Russian women’s national team, and a look at some of the Russians taken in the National Hockey League draft on Friday and Saturday. Thank you for reading!