A Walk Through the KHL: October 24th, 2017
Time for another stroll through what each of the KHL teams has been up to over the last week (previous edition is here), but we unfortunately must start with from rather unpleasant financial news from the eastern part of the league. Read on…
Metallurg Novokuznetsk have always been one of the poorest KHL teams, but financially and in terms of on-ice results. However, until this week they had mostly avoided the acute money crises that have occasionally plagued some of their rivals. No longer; word emerged this weekend that the team affectionately known as “Kuznya” is heavily in debt to airlines, hotel-owners, utility companies, and other support services of that type, and may not be able even to complete the 2016-17 season. Both league and club have issued reassuring statements, but it is clear that the situation is dire.
The KHL has never lost a team in mid-season, and is unlikely to want that to happen now, so the best guess is that ways will be found to prop the team up at least for the next few months (both Spartak Moscow and Atlant Moscow Oblast, in recent seasons, were able to finish campaigns in which their money had completely run out). However, in their heart of hearts, the KHL top brass may not too broken up if Metallurg Novokuznetsk do withdraw from the league at the end of the season. In May of this year, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko stated that he did not wish the league to have more than 30 teams (it currently has 29), and that “perhaps some teams will have to go to the minor leagues.” Kuznya, sadly, would likely be at the top of the list of candidates should contraction be considered.
One thing that might save the team from Siberia’s industrial heartland? Kuznya’s record as a hockey development centre is genuinely admirable. Recent graduates of the club’s youth ranks include established goaltending stars Sergei Bobrovsky (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Ilya Sorokin (CSKA Moscow), along with emerging talents such as Anton Slepyshev (Edmonton Oilers) and Kirill Kaprizov (Salavat Yulaev Ufa). Keeping such players at Metallurg for their pro careers has proved impossible for financial reasons, but the fact remains that the Kuzbass produces hockey players at a very nice rate, and the powers that be in the Russian game will want to preserve that.
In any case, we will certainly keep a close eye on this situation as it develops. Kuznya’s next game is on the road in Magnitogorsk on Wednesday, and the team announced today that the Board of Trustees will meet soon to discuss matters (the team’s main sponsor, incidentally, is the Russian-British mining company Evraz). We shall see what happens.
To the rest of the league (+/- number in brackets is change in Conference standings position since last Monday):
1 (+2). Metallurg Magnitogorsk (16-8, 50 pts.): As his team retook top spot in the Conference this week, Sergei Mozyakin (24 gp, 17-17-34) also reclaimed the KHL points and goals lead, both of which he had briefly conceded to SKA’s Ilya Kovalchuk.
2 (–). Avangard Omsk Oblast (15-10, 43 pts.): Not only are Avangard flying high in the East, but they also have talent bubbling under: Artyom Manukyan (22 gp, 14-22-36) and Anton Kovalyov (22 gp, 15-20-35) are one-two in points in the junior MHL right now.
3 (-2). Ak Bars Kazan (17-9, 49 pts.): Their defence corps still ravaged by injury, Ak Bars have brought in rearguard Kirill Adamchuk from Amur. Adamchuk, who played for Ak Bars’ VHL farm team in 2015-16, went 10 gp, 0-0-0 in Khabarovsk this season.
4 (–). Salavat Yulaev Ufa (12-12, 38 pts.): The Bashkir team has traded journeyman forward Artyom Chernov (15 gp, 1-1-2 this season) to Neftekhimik for the similar Yevgeny Korotkov (12 gp, 0-0-0). This will Korotkov’s third home of the season; he began 2016-17 with CSKA Moscow.
5 (+2). Admiral Vladivostok (10-13, 34 pts.): The city of Vladivostok has expressed interest in hosting the 2018 KHL All-Star Game and the Russian national team’s pre-Olympic camp. The 2018 Winter Games will be held in nearby Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Taylor gets his Sibir career off to a good start, although they would end up losing 4-2 to Severstal.
6 (-1). Sibir Novosibirsk (11-13, 34 pts.): Sibir have acquired goalie Danny Taylor from Medvescak Zagreb to replace the out-for-the-season Alexander Salak, and have also signed free-agent forward Zack Boychuk.
7 (+3). Traktor Chelyabinsk (11-12, 33 pts.): Traktor’s VP of Hockey Operations, and a long-time fixture on the Chelyabinsk hockey scene, Sergei Gomolyako has left the club by mutual consent of the parties (no specific reason has been given).
8 (+4). Kunlun Red Star Beijing (10-12, 30 pts.): Today’s 3-1 victory over Lokomotiv propelled the Chinese team into the playoff spots for the first time, and with games in hand. A remarkable job by coach Vladimir Yurzinov, jr., and his staff.
9 (-3). Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (11-15, 30 pts.): The good news: Ugra allowed only four goals in three games this week. The bad? They scored but one in that span, losing all three matches in regulation.
10 (+1). Amur Khabarovsk (10-15, 30 pts.): Oh for smidgen of luck! Amur have taken a reasonable 720 shots on goal (ninth-most in the KHL), but have the league’s second-worst shooting percentage at 6.11%.
11 (-3). Lada Tolyatti (10-13, 29 pts.): An odd stat: four of Lada’s last five games have ended 3-2 in regulation time. Lada lost all four, so it is fortunate for the Volga River team that the fifth match in that stretch was a 5-1 victory over Amur.
12. (-3). Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (11-12, 28 pts.): In addition to the above-mentioned trade with Salavat Yulaev, Neftekhimik also said “good-bye” to the Alshevsky brothers, forwards Stanislav and Yaroslav, who are on their way to Kunlun Red Star.
13. (–). Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (10-14, 28 pts.): Towering young d-man Nikita Tryamkin, who left Yekaterinburg for Vancouver last season, has apparently told the Canucks he will not report to the AHL. Tryamkin’s contract has an out-clause allowing him to return to the KHL rather than go to the Canuck’s farm team. Could he return to Avtomobilist? Highly, highly, unlikely, although his old team would no doubt take him back in a heartbeat.
14 (–). Barys Astana (8-13, 26 pts.): The rumour mill this week has veteran NHL defenceman James Wisniewski, bought out by the Carolina Hurricanes and then released from a PTO by Tampa Bay, signing for the Kazakhs on a one year deal.
15 (–). Metallurg Novokuznetsk (5-19, 15 pts.): Discussed at length above.
1 (–). SKA St. Petersburg (20-5, 61 pts.): How scary good are SKA? They’ve scored the most goals in the league (by 30!!!), given up the fewest, and lost only once in regulation.
2 (–). CSKA Moscow (18-8, 57 pts.): Valery Nichushkin picked Sibir’s fearsome Yevgeny Artyukhin (6’5″, 255 lbs., c. 800 career PiM) for his first KHL fight this week. Nichushkin emerged happily unscathed and hopefully somewhat wiser: he said that Artyukhin’s final punch “was the heaviest blow I have taken in my life.”
3 (–). Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (16-9, 48 pts.): It was a thriller last Friday between Torpedo and Dinamo Minsk; the Belarusans led 2-0 with three minutes to play, but Torpedo got goals from Alexei Potapov and Denis Shurakov to get a valuable point from what turned out to be a 3-2 shootout loss.
4 (+3). Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (14-10, 43 pts.): Lokomotiv’s strength is generally the prevention of goals, rather than the scoring of them, so it was something of a surprise when they fired eight past Barys in an 8-1 win on Saturday. Brandon Kozun and Max Talbot had three points apiece in the rout.
5 (-1). HK Sochi (15-10, 42. pts.): Forward Ben Maxwell, who was having a bit of a down season to begin with (21 gp, 4-2-6), will miss about a month with an upper-body injury.
6 (-1). Dinamo Minsk (14-8, 40 pts.): Dinamo’s former General Director Maxim Subbotkin has been sentenced to five years in prison for abuse of office, exceeding his authority, and criminal negligence after an investigation that began in mid-2015.
7 (-1). Dynamo Moscow (13-11, 39 pts.): This has not been the normal strong campaign from Dynamo, who on Saturday snuck by Ugra 1-0 to break a three-game losing skid.
8 (+1). Jokerit Helsinki (10-13, 34 pts.): Jokerit welcomed back Pekka Jormakka this week, after he missed a month with a concussion. The 26-year-old forward has an assist in two games since his return, for a season line of 12 gp, 1-5-6.
9 (-1). Vityaz Moscow Oblast (12-11, 34 pts.): The bad old days may really be behind us: Vityaz have the fourth-fewest penalty minutes (fifth-fewest per game) in the KHL.
10 (–). Severstal Cherepovets (10-14, 33 pts.): 27-year-old forward Dmitry Kagarlitsky (24 gp, 10-10-20) is on course for career highs in goals and points, a key factor in Severstal’s recovery from a 1-10 start.
11 (–). Spartak Moscow (11-13, 32 pts.): Lost in the midst of a somewhat disappointing season at Spartak has been the play of rearguard Matt Gilroy; his line of 24 gp, 4-17-21, has him second in scoring among defencemen, behind only Metallurg Magnitogorsk’s Chris Lee
12 (–). Medveščak Zagreb (11-12, 32 pts.): Newly-signed goalie Drew MacIntyre (2 gp, 1.51 GAA, .941 sv%) has helped the Croats to a three-game winning streak, putting them just two points outside the last playoff spot.
13 (–). Slovan Bratislava (10-12, 29 pts.): A testing week ahead: Slovan travel first to St. Petersburg to play SKA on Tuesday, and clash with CSKA in Moscow on Thursday.
14 (–). Dinamo Riga (4-19, 14 pts.): Forward Roberts Lipsbergs, a former Dinamo youth player, has rejoined the club after several seasons in North America. The 22-year-old totaled 11-11-22 in 48 games playing for three ECHL teams in 2015-16.