A Walk Through the KHL: November 14th, 2016
The KHL got back to work last week, after pausing to allow the youthful selections to the Russian national team to compete in the Karjala Cup (they won it, too, going a perfect 3-0). Of course, that meant any number of interesting developments, so read on as we take a stroll through some of those, and also check in with the President of the KHL, and the President of Russia too, on hockey-related matters!
Before we get started, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko had some interesting things to say about the future of the league, and in particular its lineup of teams, in an interview today (h/t to Vorky for this story). Chernyshenko hinted that contraction of the league is a real possibility, saying that he would like to find the “optimal number” of teams. That topic, inevitably, meant some discussion of Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s recent difficulties; while refusing to get specific on the team’s long-term future, the KHL boss did say that had “not the slightest doubt” that Metallurg will be able to finish the season.
Chernyshenko also commented on the financial situation at Medveščak Zagreb, noting that all debts there have been paid, and he denied that there has been a formal application to move the Croatian club to London, England. And he further addressed the serious attendance woes bedeviling Kunlun Red Star Beijing, who have played in front of some three-digit crowds in their temporary home in Shanghai (the team will return to Beijing for home games shortly). Cherynyshenko acknowledged the problem, and attributed it to “growing pains” and “logistical and marketing mistakes.” He also noted, on the bright side, that the new Chinese team draws above-average crowds on the road. Anyway, it is a very interesting interview, and worth a read even in Google-translated form.
Chernyshenko’s were not the only comments on the “state of the game” this past week; wading in on the always-thorny topic of young Russian players leaving to ply their trade in North America was none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. Said Putin: “There must be certain requirements; play here for awhile, then you can go elsewhere.” He also brought up the need for legislation “so that kids are interested [i.e. in playing hockey in Russia], and so that our clubs are not lost.” The mention of government action in this area is particularly intriguing, and we will see what comes of it.
1 (+2). Metallurg Magnitogorsk (20-9, 62 pts.): Defenceman Chris Lee currently leads KHL rearguards in points (29 gp, 6-22-28, tied for seventh overall in the scoring race), and is third in the league among all players in assists.
2 (+2). Salavat Yulaev Ufa (18-13, 56 pts.): The Ufa side’s current six-game winning streak has been driven by an unlikely hero; defenceman Zakhar Arzamastsev has at least a point in all six victories, and though the season is only halfway done, has already set new career bests in goals and points (30 gp, 7-8-15).
3 (-2). Ak Bars Kazan (22-11, 62 pts.): In previewing Ak Bars’ season, we wondered how the famously conservative coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov would cope with an unusually young and speedy bunch. Just fine, as it turns out; Ak Bars have scored the fifth-most goals in the league (87), and given up the eighth-fewest (63).
4 (-2). Avangard Omsk Oblast (19-11, 55 pts.): Departing Omsk is Canadian forward Derek Roy (21 gp, 5-7-12), traded to Traktor for forward Daniil Gubarev (11 gp, 0-0-0). Avangard are reportedly looking to sign free agent David Booth as Roy’s replacement.
5 (-). Traktor Chelyabinsk (15-14, 47 pts.): Pavel Francouz seems to have snaffled the number one goalie job away from Vasily Demchenko, having started six of Traktor’s last eight games. And no wonder; the 26-year-old Czech has a league-leading .962 sv% in 11 appearances this season.
6 (-). Admiral Vladivostok (13-16, 43 pts.): Forward Vladimir Tkachyov, enjoying a break-out season at 21 years old (27 gp, 10-14-24), has hinted that he would like to extend his contract with Admiral.
7 (-). Kunlun Red Star Beijing (14-14, 42 pts.): The Chinese team has reportedly picked up Finnish forward Jonas Enlund (25 gp, 4-8-12), who was placed on waivers this week by CSKA.
8 (+2). Barys Astana (13-14, 40 pts.): Minnesota-born forward Brandon Bochenski has become the all-time leading scorer among foreign players in KHL history. His 366 points in 367 games, all with Barys, sees him pass Norway’s Patrik Thoresen for top spot.
9 (-1). Lada Tolyatti (13-16, 38 pts.): A pleasant aspect of Lada’s season has been the quasi-resurgence of former NHL first-rounder Nikita Filatov, who at 29 gp, 9-12-21 leads the team in points and is tied for the goal-scoring honours.
10 (-1). Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast (12-18 37 pts.): There were two piece of good news in recent days for Sibir. First, they broke a six-game losing streak by beating HK Sochi 3-1 on Saturday. And key forward Maxim Shalunov (19 gp, 12-7-19), out injured since mid-October, is with the team as it departs for a Far Eastern road trip.
11 (+2). Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (13-18, 36 pts.): An interesting addition to the Ugra line-up last week in defenceman Yevgeny Kulik, acquired from Avangard. He was a good scoring rearguard in junior hockey, and at 23 has plenty of time to find the range in the pro ranks.
12 (-). Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (12-18, 34 pts.): Milestone alert, as forward Alexei Simakov played his 900th game in top-flight Russian hockey this week. The 37-year-old from Yekaterinburg has spent most of his career in his hometown, although he has also seen significant time with Neftekhimik.
13 (-2). Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (12-17, 32 pts.): Coach Andrei Nazarov pulled goalie Ville Kolppanen for a sixth attacker with three minutes to play on Saturday, and Neftekhimik trailing Traktor. Nothing unusual in that, except that the score was 5-0. “We wanted to score a goal,” said Nazarov afterwards (they did not — the final was 6-0).
14 (-). Amur Khabarovsk (10-20, 31 pts): Two new arrivals in Khabarovsk: journeyman KHL blueliner Vladimir Malevich (5 gp, 0-0-0 with Ugra this season) and young forward Yuri Nazarov (18 gp, 7-6-13 with Sokol Krasnoyarsk of the VHL).
15 (-). Metallurg Novokuznetsk (6-24, 17 pts.): Sporting Director Valery Zelepukin, whom NHL fans may remember from a couple of decades ago, has left Metallurg by mutual consent of the parties.
1 (-). SKA St. Petersburg (25-5, 76 pts.): We’re running out of superlatives here, but here’s an interesting number: SKA have scored 86 more goals than they given up. Only four other KHL teams (CSKA, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Salavat Yulaev, and Ak Bars), have scored 86 goals period full stop.
2 (-). CSKA Moscow (21-10, 66 pts.): The old CSKA-Dynamo Moscow derby served up a classic of the genre on Sunday; CSKA led 3-0 early, then trailed 4-3, and they needed Igor Ozhiganov’s late wonder-goal (see video below) to salvage a regulation tie before eventually prevailing in the shoot-out.
3 (-). Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (19-11, 57 pts.): In an unusual move, Torpedo have waived Swedish forward Fredrik Pettersson, who was fourth on the team in points-per-game (24 gp, 5-7-12), and sent him to farm club HK Sarov.
4 (-). Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (17-12, 52 pts.): The occasion for the above-mentioned comments by President Putin was a visit to Yaroslavl, during which he laid flowers at the memorial to the victims of the 2011 plane crash, and also observed progress on Lokomotiv’s new training centre that is under construction.
5 (+1). Dynamo Moscow (16-13, 47 pts.): The club has been fined ₽800,000 for obscene chants at last week’s game against SKA, as well as for an insulting banner aimed at former Dynamo coach Oleg Znarok, now in charge of the St. Petersburg team.
6 (-1). HK Sochi (16-14, 46 pts.): An interesting fan promo for the upcoming visit of defending Gagarin Cup champions Metallurg Magnitogorsk: fans with the surname “Gagarin,” and those who live on Ulitsa Gagarina (“Gagarin Street”) in Sochi, will be given free admission to the game.
7 (+2). Jokerit Helsinki (14-15, 45 pts.): Forward Jesse Joensuu (20 gp, 8-6-14), who is having a very good season, has put pen to paper on a three-year contract extension that will see him in Helsinki through the 2019-2020 season.
8 (-). Vityaz Moscow Oblast (16-13, 45 pts.): Vityaz already have three players (Miro Aaltonen, Alexei Kopeikin, and Alexei Makeyev) in double-digits in goals this season. Only Dinamo Minsk and SKA, the latter of whom have four such players, can say likewise.
9 (-2). Dinamo Minsk (15-13, 43 pts.): The Belarusans’ 10-3 start to the season is but a fond memoray now, and the reason is clear. While Dinamo have scored 80 goals, sixth-most in the KHL, they still have a negative goal difference; their 84 conceded is fifth-most in league.
10 (-). Severstal Cherepovets (12-17, 40 pts.): An possible early candidate for “Acquisition of the Season” is Czech forward Vojtěch Polák. Severstal were at 1-9 when he arrived in mid-September as a free agent. Since then, they are 11-8, and Polák has scored 5-7-12 to go with a team-leading +10.
11 (-). Spartak Moscow (13-15, 38 pts.): Spartak have acquired 21-year-old defenceman Yuri Sergiyenko from Sibir via CSKA. Sergiyenko was a solid contributor with Torpedo last season (33 gp, 2-7-9, +8), but had struggled in Novosibirsk (26 gp, 1-3-4, -6).
12 (-). Slovan Bratislava (12-16, 35 pts.): Since last we checked in, the Slovak club has signed a trio of significant players. Incoming are former Stanley Cup champion forward Tomáš Kopecký (5 gp, 0-2-2 in the Slovak League this year), defenceman Igor Musatov (free agent), and veteran KHL rearguard Filip Novák (9 gp, 1-2-3 in the Czech League).
13 (-). Medveščak Zagreb (11-18, 32 pts.): Running afoul of the referees has been a problem; Medveščak lead the league with 715 PiM this season, 200 more than Slovan in second place, and almost three times as many as Avangard, the KHL’s least-penalized team with only 242 minutes.
14 (-). Dinamo Riga (8-22, 27 pts.): Correlation or causation? Since Latvian hockey legend Sandis Ozoliņš arrived as an assistant coach, Dinamo have won four of five, including their last three straight.
Finally, speaking of legends of the game, this evening saw the much-deserved induction of Sergei Mikhailovich Makarov into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The third member of the famed 1980s Green Unit to make the Hall (Igor Larionov and Vyacheslav Fetisov have been inducted, while Alexei Kasatonov and the late Vladimir Krutov still awaity the honour), Makarov won the Soviet Championship scoring title nine times in the 1980s, BEFORE recording another 407 points in 458 games in the NHL. And that merely scratches the surface; he was a truly amazing player. Congratulations to Sergei Makarov, and here are some clips of him in action — enjoy!