News Notes: the KHL in 2016-17 and Beyond
Wednesday was a bit of a white-knuckler for followers of the KHL, as the league had previously announced that July 6th would be when we would learn the full lineup of teams for the coming season. And so it came to pass — read on, for some discussion of what the KHL had to say!
And then there were 29. The last couple of months has seen a great deal of talk, here and elsewhere, about what the KHL’s 2016-17 lineup of teams would look like. There have been several proposed expansion teams, while on the other hand the league had stated that current clubs in debt to players would not be admitted for next season. And so it looked like there might both comings and goings to discuss. On Wednesday, however, we learned that there will be but one new arrival, and no teams dropping out; in 2016-17, the KHL will be a 29-team circuit comprised of the 28 clubs from last season plus newcomers Red Star Kunlun Beijing. And that is good news.
The one small fly in the ointment is that it appears clear that there are still some clubs — perhaps as many as nine — owing wages to players and coaches from last season; the KHL obviously backed off on its demand that all such arrears be wiped from the books as a condition for playing in 2016-17. Players’ Union President Andrei Kovalenko strongly hinted as much in an interview on Tuesday, when he said that he hoped all such matters would be cleared up “by the end of July.” In other words, the fact that all 28 2015-16 teams made it may be a matter more of deferring the problem than of solving it. However, in the end, no existing KHL fan-base will go into the new season mourning the loss of their team, and so it is difficult to work up much dismay over the league not maintaining its strict stance on team debt.
Much of the interest, reasonably enough, has been directed at Red Star Kunlun, the KHL’s first Chinese entry. The club’s inaugural roster is slowly coming together at training camp in Finland, and so far comprises 11 players under contract, plus another 14 attending on a try-out basis. The contracted players are (with nationality and most recent club + league in parentheses):
- G Tomi Karhunen (FIN, Tappara [Liiga])
- G Andrei Makarov (RUS, Rochester Americans [AHL])
- D Janne Jalasvaara (FIN, HK Sochi [KHL])
- D Alexander Mikulovich (RUS, Niagara IceDogs [OHL])
- D Tuukka Mäntylä (FIN, Tappara [Liiga])
- D Anssi Salmela (FIN, Brynäs IF [SHL])
- F Martin Bakoš (SVK, Bílí Tygři Liberec [Czech Extraliga])
- F Damien Fleury (FRA, Schwenninger Wild Wings [DEL])
- F Tomáš Marcinko (SVK, Dynamo Pardubice [Czech Extraliga])
- F Igor Velichkin (RUS, Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg [KHL])
- F Oleg Yashin (RUS, Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk [KHL])
Red Star Kunlun also have Russian defenceman Dmitry Kostromitin, who played last year for Vityaz in the KHL, in on a try-out contract. The other 13 try-out players are all from China (one of the new team’s mandates is the development of Chinese hockey in advance of the 2022 Winter Olympics). All but a couple come from the Chinese League team in Harbin, and almost all have experience with the country’s national team. You can see the full list of Chinese invitees here, and I will freely admit that I do not know too much about any of them, at least not yet. Research is underway, however…
We also got a tantalizing suggestion this week of a future possible KHL expansion site. Officials from Kazakhstan-based VHL team Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk has stated that the club wants to apply for KHL admission in time for the 2018-19 season, which would give the league a second team, after Barys Astana, in the Central Asian republic. Torpedo were founded in 1955, and made it to the top division of the Soviet Championship in the late 1980s, before settling into Russia’s second division in the post-USSR era.
This is, of course, miles and miles from a sure thing. The club’s arena, the Boris Alexandrov Sports Palace, is nearly 50 years old (although it did undergo a major renovation in 2001), and it seats only 4400 people. Some facilities work would obviously be needed before KHL admission could be considered. The city is also suffers from a fairly dire problem with industrial pollution, although efforts to remedy that are underway.
However, it is worth noting that the club’s junior side, Altai Ust-Kamenogorsk, has already applied for membership in the MHL next season, after previously playing in Russia’s second-tier junior league. One other potential expansion candidate for a couple of seasons from now, the legendary old Krylya Sovetov Moscow club, has also taken the step of creating an MHL junior team for 2016-17.
And Torpedo Ust-Kamenogorsk’s desire for KHL membership is particularly interesting given the hockey history of the team and of the city. Ust-Kamenogorsk (or Oskemen as it is known in Kazakh) is a city of 320,000 people in eastern Kazakhstan, not far from the Russian border, and it has historically been a prodigious producer of ice hockey talent. Perhaps its most famous hockey player in Soviet days was the man after whom the arena is named; Boris Alexandrov played a number of seasons for CSKA Moscow and the Soviet national team in the 1970s, and North American fans may remember him scoring the tying goal for Red Army against the Montreal Canadiens during their famous tilt on New Year’s Eve, 1975. More recently, Ust-Kamenogorsk has been the birthplace of such well-known NHLers as Nikolai Antropov and longtime San Jose Sharks goalie Yevgeny Nabokov.
Nor has the production line really slowed down. Fourteen out of 25 players on Kazakhstan’s 2016 World Championship team hail from Ust-Kamenogorsk, as does roughly half of the Barys Astana roster. The most amazing fact of all? Only Moscow (population 11.9 million) and Chelyabinsk (population 1.15 million) have sent more players to the KHL than Ust-Kamenogorsk has (the totals, per Quanthockey, are Moscow 252, Chelyabinsk 91, Ust-Kamenogorsk 61).
In less weighty news, a couple of teams will be going into the new season with new looks, at least in terms of their logos. Lada Tolyatti unveiled their new insignia a few weeks ago, and on Monday it was Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s turn (you can watch a short publicity video on it right here). Metallurg also announced their new logo on Twitter, and received an amusing reply from Lada into the bargain.
Severstal Cherepovets, meanwhile, will embark upon the 2016-17 season with a new mascot, in the form of a (currently) six-week-old lynx kitten named Seva. Seva lives at the zoo in Veliky Ustyug, about 500 kilometres northeast of Cherepovets, and will now have his care and upkeep paid for by the hockey team. Severstal players and officials made the trip to Veliky Ustyug to formally “hire” Seva (who will continue to live at the zoo), and as you might imagine the pictures are quite delightful!
We should get a KHL schedule in a week or so, which will reveal among other things how Red Star Kunlun will fit into the divisional scheme. Geography would suggest that the Chinese team will play in the Chernyshev Division, which includes among others the two Far Eastern teams, but whether there will be further divisional shuffling remains to be seen (Salavat Yulaev Ufa to the Kharlamov Division is a move that would make some geographic sense). In the meantime, we do have each team’s pre-season schedule, as far as is known (link is a PDF, in Russian — h/t to Vorky), and exhibition games will be upon us before we know it.
Here at the blog, now that we know who is in for next season, it is time to start looking at KHL lineups. Short posts on each team and its off-season transactions are forthcoming, and we will go in reverse order of last year’s standings (Red Star Kunlun will be worked in somewhere along the line). That means that first up will be Metallurg Novokuznetsk, and you can look for that post in a couple of days. There will also be more news notes anon, focusing on some trans-oceanic transfer activity (both ways), some news from Russian women’s hockey, and an interesting new business venture undertaken by Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Danis Zaripov. Look for that one on Monday. In the meantime, thank you for reading!