Let the Off-Season Feeding Frenzy Begin!
Monday marked the beginning of the annual free-agent season in the KHL, as contracts expired on April 30th and players began to change teams. The past couple of days have seen a large number of such transactions, far too many to discuss them all here (Elite Prospects is your friend in keeping track of all the moves). But read on, for a little look at just a few of the more significant trades and signings of the last 48 hours!
The Big Trade: CSKA Moscow and Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast swung the biggest exchange of the opening couple of days of May, a trade occasioned by the latter’s ongoing financial difficulties. To CSKA are headed Sibir’s top three scorers of 2016-17: forwards Maxim Shalunov (49 gp, 19-18-37), Sergei Shumakov (54 gp, 16-21-37), and Konstantin Okulov (59 gp, 17-11-28). The trio accounted for nearly 40 percent of Sibir’s goals in 2016-17, and will provide an instant boost to a CSKA attack that was already very good last season; the Moscow giants’ 183 regular-season goals ranked third in the KHL. All three players have fresh three-year contracts in hand, signed the day before the trade went down, and all three are young as well; Shalunov and Shumakov are 24, while Okulov is 22.
For Sibir, the deal is obviously a hideous blow to their on-ice hopes for 2017-18, but they badly needed the money. The Novosibirsk team will reportedly receive 410 million rubles from CSKA (about ten million Canadian dollars), which should go a long way to keeping the wolf from the door. Sibir also receive an interesting prospect in 21-year-old forward Alexander A. Sharov. Sharov, a member of Russia’s 2014-15 World Juniors team, scored 7-17-24 in 43 games last season for Zvezda Chekhov of the VHL.
CSKA land Kaprizov, Burdasov: CSKA were not finished loading up on the attacking side of things, either. From Avangard Omsk Oblast arrives 25-year-old forward Anton Burdasov, a Gagarin Cup-winner with SKA St. Petersburg in 2015. Burdasov missed a huge chunk of early 2016-17 with an injury but still scored 17-8-25 in only 35 games (that ranked him second on his team in goals). Avangard, for their part, receive useful mid-lineup forward Dmitry Kugryshev (52, 12-13-25) and exciting prospect forward Semyon Koshelev. The latter scored 4-11-15 in 27 KHL games this past season, despite averaging less than ten minutes of ice-time per night, and he was front and centre for junior side Krasnaya Armiya Moscow in their successful hunt for the MHL’s Kharamov Cup (10 gp, 11-9-20 in the MHL playoffs).
But, with all due respect to Burdasov and the Sibir trio, CSKA’s big pickup of the free agent season is one of Russian hockey’s most exciting young prospects: forward Kirill Kaprizov, acquired from Salavat Yulaev Ufa for cash just a few days after his 20th birthday. Kaprizov (49 gp, 20-22-42 plus another three goals in five playoff games) led Salavat Yulaev in goals and was second on the team in points in 2016-17. He also absolutely demolished the World Juniors this season, scoring 9-3-12 in seven games and being named the tournament’s best forward. For Kaprizov, the move to the old Red Army team was just one of two pieces of big news this week: he has also been named to Russia’s preliminary World Championship roster.
In short, CSKA Moscow are going to head into the 2017-18 season with a somewhat terrifying forward group.
Sobotka heads back to the NHL: Burdasov was not the only significant scoring talent to depart Omsk this spring. This one is not particularly “news,” as it happened a month ago, but the Vladimír Sobotka saga finally came to an end as the Czech forward returned to the St. Louis Blues after three seasons with Avangard, during which Sobotka scored 116 points in 156 games. Sobotka was never a dominant KHLer, but he was a highly useful one, and will be missed in the Avangard lineup. Since returning to the Blues, he has six points in nine NHL games — a very decent total.
A number of other players are crossing the ocean this off-season, in one direction or the other, and we will discuss them in a post of their own later on (a few others are mentioned later on in this post).
The prodigals’ return to Yekaterinburg: After three straight post-season appearances, Avtomobilist missed out in 2016-17; two former players for the club, and important parts of those playoff teams, have returned to the fold to try to set things right in 2017-18. As was reported a couple of weeks ago, and is now officially official, hulking young defenceman Nikita Tryamkin (22 years old, 6’7″, 265 lbs.) has returned to his hometown after a season-and-a-bit with the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. Irritation over a lack of ice-time, and possibly simple homesickness, played a role in Tryamkin’s decision, and the possibility of a spot on the 2018 Olympic team (a real possibility, too, although by no means assured) was probably a factor as well. Tryamkin scored 28 points in 188 KHL games for Avtomobilist between 2012 and 2016, and added 11 in 79 NHL tilts, so he is very much on the defensive side of the ledger, but his size and skating ability give opposing forwards much to think about.
Tryamkin will have a familiar face behind him in goal this coming season, too; Czech netminder Jakub Kovář has trekked back across the Urals after spending last season with Severstal Cherepovets (and posting the KHL’s third-most minutes played by a netminder). Now, Kovář is coming off two straight mediocre seasons (.914 sv% in 2015-16 with Avtomobilist and last season’s .915 with Severstal — a few points below KHL average, in other words), so getting him back to form will be key. However, he has had success in Yekaterinburg in the past, particularly during a splendid 2013-14 campaign in which he recorded a .931 sv% in 48 games. Avtomobilist got average goaltending last year from Vladimir Sokhatsky (35 gp, .923 sv%), but Igor Ustinsky struggled mightily (27 gp, .905 sv%), so there is certainly an opportunity here for Kovář.
Metallurg’s defence gets a makeover: Coming off their third trip to the Gagarin Cup Finals in four seasons, Metallurg Magnitogorsk have seen two key members of their defence group depart in the last few days. Excellent puck-moving rearguard Alexei Bereglazov (60 gp, 1-18-19, plus six assists in 13 playoff games) was signed by the New York Rangers, while Metallurg announced that the similarly very useful Viktor Antipin will not be re-signed. Antipin scored 6-18-24 in 59 regular season games, then had an excellent playoff run with a line of 18 gp, 7-4-11; he is expected to sign with the Buffalo Sabres shortly. Both Bereglazov and Antipin are on the Russian roster for the 2017 Worlds, so these are significant departures. In addition, Chris Lee, who broke KHL defence scoring records this season with a line of 60 gp, 14-51-65 (plus 18 gp, 1-20-21 in the playoffs) and is part of Team Canada’s World Championship preparations, is out of contract, although there has been no suggestion that he is leaving.
Metallurg have made one significant move to fill the new holes on defence, signing veteran rearguard, and captain of CSKA Moscow, Denis Denisov (see the Antipin link above for details). The 35-year old led his team in points in 2016-17, and matched his career best in that category, with a line of 50 gp, 7-18-25, although he was held entirely off the scoresheet in nine playoff games. Still and all, and despite his age, he remains an excellent all-round blueliner, and should be a solid addition to the East Conference champions.
As mentioned, these are just a few of the more significant moves of the last couple of days; if you have any questions, or if there are other moves you would like to discuss, mention them in the comments. Tomorrow, a look at Russia’s roster for the World Championship — in the meantime, thank you for reading!