It Begins Again!
On Monday evening, at 7:00 local time, the puck will drop in Magnitogorsk to get the KHL’s ninth season of action underway. Gagarin Cup Champions Metallurg will take on 2015-16 regular season champs CSKA Moscow in the league’s traditional opening match-up, which is also a re-match of last season’s Finals. Read on, for a quick look at what to expect in the new season!
How will it all work? The KHL’s 29 teams will each play a 60-game regular season which will wrap up on the 18th of February, 2017. The 3-2-1-0 points systems remains in place: three points for a regulation victory, two for an overtime or shootout triumph, one for a loss in extra time, and nothing at all for a team that loses in regulation. The teams are divided into the usual four divisions (Bobrov, Kharlamov, Tarasov, and Chernyshev) and into the East and West Conferences. The top eight in each conference will advance to the playoffs, with the division winners seeded first and second regardless of points. So basically no format change at all from last season.
The big story of course is that 29th team. This off-season the KHL welcomed aboard Kunlun Red Star Beijing, marking the arrival of big-league hockey in China, and there will be much interest in how the newcomers fare. Will they make the playoffs? Probably not. Will they finish last overall? Maybe, but there’s a very good chance that answer here too is “no.” And what will come next in their suddenly savage rivalry with Barys Astana, which has already resulted in Barys player Damir Ryspayev earning a lifetime ban for actions during a pre-season game (Ryspayev has sent a letter to the league asking them to reconsider). Those are but a few of the questions, and we will keep a close eye on their fortunes in this campaign.
Then, of course, we have the regular old perennial question: who will win? SKA St. Petersburg have spent the off-season loading up (hello, Mr. Datsyuk!), while CSKA have bidden farewell to both their best forward (Alexander Radulov) and their best defenceman (Nikita Zaitsev). The pendulum in West Conference has clearly swung back hard in the direction of old Leningrad. However, we should not lose track of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl or Jokerit Helsinki in all this; they too may have a say.
In the East… who knows? There are about five teams, maybe six, that could turn up on top of the conference standings, and the battle for the final playoff spots may be just as tight. And of course, the KHL’s best player, Mr. Sergei Mozyakin, will be once again plying his trade for the defending champions in Magnitogorsk, which is worth the price of admission and of itself. Predicting the East in 2016-17 is a fool’s errand, but it should make for fun viewing!
All of which is a long way of saying that eventually SKA St. Petersburg will defeat Avangard Omsk for the Gagarin Cup. You read it here first.
At the blog, meanwhile, there will be a change or two. For one thing, I am going to modify the way I cover news here, as the once-per-week enormous post of news notes was getting a bit unwieldy. So I am going to try shorter news articles, posted more frequently. As usual, coverage will include not only the KHL, but also coverage of the Women’s Hockey League, the VHL, the MHL, and the various national squads. And I hope to get back to doing some historical posts at some point.
There is still a handful of team previews to get through — I had hoped to finish them before the opening faceoff, but that did not occur. We’ll wrap that series up this week, however. And once again, I will be selecting six KHL players to follow closely this coming season; look for that this coming Friday.
Roll on, 2016-17!