Slovan Bratislava in 2016-17
It was only a year ago that the KHL’s Slovak delegation looked to be exiting the league due to lack of sponsorship, and though Slovan survived, they missed most of the summer 2015 transfer season. However, with wily coach Miloš Říha behind the bench, Slovan were not only competitive, they made the playoffs — an amazing feat, under the circumstances. So where to now? Read on…
Slovan Bratislava in 2015-16: 21 W — 11 OT/SO W — 4 OT/SO L — 24 L
3rd in Bobrov Div., 8th in West Conf., 15th in KHL. Lost in Conf. QFs.
Head Coach: Miloš Říha
In: G Justin Pogge (Färjestad BK [SWE]); D Andrej Meszároš (Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast); D Nick Plastino (Tappara [FIN]); F Jonathan Cheechoo (Dinamo Minsk); F Kyle Chipchura (Arizona Coyotes [NHL]); F Michal Hlinka (Dukla Trenčín [SVK]); F Tomáš Kubalík (ERC Ingolstadt [GER]); F Radek Smoleňák (Medveščak Zagreb); F Jeff Taffe (Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk); F Jakub Valský (Bílí Tygři Liberec [CZE]); F Lukáš Vopelka (Örebro HK [SWE]); F Tomáš Zigo (’05 Banská Bystrica [SVK])
Out: G Michael Garnett (Unknown); D Cam Barker (Barys Astana); D Ľubomír Višňovský (Retired); F Milan Bartovič (Bílí Tygři Liberec [CZE]); F Lukáš Kašpar (Dynamo Moscow); F Ladislav Nagy (HC Košice [SVK]); Dávid Skokan (Piráti Chomutov [CZE]); F Tomáš Surový (’05 Banská Bystrica [SVK]); F Rok Tičar (Ak Bars Kazan)
There were some significant departures from that Slovan team that did so well last season, and from the list above four names jump out. Barker, first of all, led all KHL defencemen in scoring, with a line of 55 gp, 9-31-40. Kašpar was Slovan’s leading scorer overall, putting up an excellent 16-31-47 in 58 games, while Slovenia’s Tičar (57 gp, 14-17-31) was second on the team in goals and third in points. And while injuries limited Slovakian hockey legend Višňovský to only 13 games, he scored ten points in those before saying “farewell” in an emotional ceremony right after Slovan’s elimination.
Nagy, too, will be a familiar name to many; he was a point-per-game NHLer, or close to it, for several seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. However, those exploits were more than a decade ago now, and last year’s line of 48 gp, 7-8-15 for Slovan suggests that time has caught up to the 37-year-old.
Between Barker, Kašpar, and Tičar, there are a lot of points that need replacing, but Slovan have made some nice moves in that regard. Cheechoo, Taffe, and Smoleňák were all top-two scorers on their respective teams, with Cheechoo’s numbers the best among them: 54 gp, 16-22-38. Chipchura, too, is an interesting newcomer; while he has never been a mighty scorer at any level of professional hockey, he does have 480 NHL games under his belt, which can’t hurt at all. Among the returning forwards, Andrej Šťastný bears watching; the 25-year-old sniped at a useful pace of 13 goals in 43 games, as as he’s only 25 there are reasons to believe that he can do it again.
On the defensive side of things, Meszaros looks like a great acquisition. A 30-year-old two-way blueliner with 700 NHL games behind him, he won’t score as much as Barker did last season, but will be an improvement on the defensive side of things; that trade-off may well work out to Slovan’s net benefit. Another defenceman to keep in mind is the returning Tomáš Kundrátek, who was acquired late last season from Dinamo Riga. In 16 games for Slovan, he scored 4-7-11, and a full season at that rate will go a long way towards replacing Barker’s offensive output.
In goal, Barry Brust gave Slovan solidly league-average goaltending (37 gp, .920 sv%) last season and returns, while Garnett struggled somewhat (28 gp, .905 sv%) and will be elsewhere in 2016-17. Pogge, the former Maple Leafs prospect tabbed to replace Garnett, has no KHL experience but is coming off a season in which his .922 sv% was second-best in the Swedish Hockey League. And waiting in the wings is 20-year-old Slovak Christián Pavlas, who stopped shots for Slovan’s junior team last season at an excellent .943 rate. This is not a monstrously strong goalie rotation, but it should be ok until and unless the injury bug plays a role.
Given a summer of stability, some good-looking replacements for key departures, and the continued presence of an excellent coach in Říha, there is cause for optimism in Bratislava. If the goaltending holds up, there is no reason why Slovan cannot match or even better last season’s eighth-place finish in the West.
Next up: Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg.