“It might be necessary to make some unpopular decisions,” said KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko yesterday, after a meeting of the Council for the Development of Physical Culture and Sport. Today, the league’s own Board of Directors met, and some thunderous decisions were indeed made — popular or unpopular, depending on one’s point of view. Read on, for a quick and preliminary look at those, and also some news of the KHL’s annual awards ceremony, which also happened today!
I mentioned last week that it seemed likely, but today the news became official: Metallurg Novokuznetsk and Medveščak Zagreb are out of the KHL’s 2017-18 roster of teams, and the league will proceed with 27 clubs for next season. KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko further indicated that the plan is to reduce that number to 24 for 2018-19.
The exclusions of Metallurg and Medveščak are not a surprise, either one of them. The latter team had announced several weeks ago that it was joining the Austria-based EBEL for the coming season, although there remained a faint hope that the Croatian side could run squads both on that circuit and in the KHL. However, Chernyshenko revealed today (see link above) that Medveščak had not in fact sent in an application to be part of the KHL for the coming season.
As for Metallurg, I wrote last week about their difficulties (i.e., no money, and long an uncompetitive side in the league), and also about the potential pitfalls (i.e. damage to the club’s excellent development system) should they be removed from the KHL. Today’s news could not have come as a shock to the team’s supporters, but was a sadness nonetheless. Metallurg alumnus and Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky summed up the feeling today in his hometown: “Terrible news. For the club, for the city, for the region. The city lived hockey.” Metallurg’s General Director, Sergei Zinovyev, called the decision to expel the team “contrary to the rules,” and said he wished they had been given more time to try to overcome the club’s financial difficulties.
There may be a small ray of sunshine for fans of the club known colloquially as “Kuznya.” Vladislav Tretyak, President of the Russian Hockey Federation, said today that Metallurg would join the second-tier VHL next season, and so would continue to exist as a professional club. We still await confirmation of that move, which might, it must be admitted, be the best solution for all concerned. There is no word just yet on the fate of Metallurg’s junior team Kuznetskie Medvedi, who made the semi-finals of the MHL’s Kharlamov Cup this season.
The decisions on Metallurg and Medveščak were only part of what the KHL Board of Directors got up to today; the league has adopted a new strategic plan, including profound changes to the salary cap, to take it through the next several seasons. I will refrain from going into too much depth about it right now, but rest assured that there will be much more said on the subject here in the days and weeks to come as we prepare for the 2017-18 season. There is a post from guest blogger Tomáš Vorčák on its way in the next few days, which will explore some of the details of the new plan, and we will be keeping an eye on what today’s news does to the off-season transfer market.
However, I would take this opportunity to say that there can no longer be any doubt, if there indeed there was any to begin with, that the KHL Presidency of Dmitry Chernyshenko is a very different animal from that of his predecessor, Alexander Medvedev. Under Medvedev, more was merrier when it came to the number of teams, and the KHL also went to tremendous lengths to try to save faltering clubs. That ethos had its own charm, to be sure, but it also had its downside; the widening gap between the top teams in the league and the bottom-feeders, both on the ice and at the bank, bears some witness to that. It is clear both that the KHL strongly wishes its member clubs to aspire to a higher standard now, and that the league is willing to enforce that desire through stern measures indeed. We shall see where things go from here.
There were also some more light-hearted decisions made (or at least revealed) today, as the KHL rang down the curtain on the 2016-17 season with its annual awards ceremony. It was very much the Sergei Mozyakin show, as the Metallurg Magnitogorsk forward was an easy choice for the Best Player award; he also took home the prizes for most goals (48) and most points (85) in the 2016-17 season — both were new KHL records. And he was named the league’s Most Gentlemanly Forward (SKA St. Petersburg’s Anton Belov won the corresponding award for defencemen).
A full recap of the evening’s trophies can be read here (or you can watch the video of the entire event here), but some of the other major highlights included Vasily Koshechkin of Metallurg Magnitogorsk being named Best Goalie of 2016-17. Champions SKA picked up their fair share of hardware: the trio of Yevgeny Dadonov, Vadim Shipachyov, and Nikita Gusev was named the KHL’s Best Forward Line, while bench boss Oleg Znarok took home Best Coach honours. The Alexei Cherepanov Award for Rookie of the Year went to Admiral Vladivostok’s Vladimir Tkachyov.
For the first time, the Women’s Hockey League took part in the ceremony. Anna Shokhina was named the circuit’s Best Player — no surprise, after she posted a line of 36 gp, 39-42-81 for Tornado Moscow Oblast this season. The other two nominees for the prize were Tornado forward Yelena Dergachyova and goalie Mariya Sorokina of Dynamo St. Petersburg.
Also honoured was the Best Player from the junior MHL. That prize went to Omskie Yastreby (junior club of Avangard Omsk Oblast) forward Artyom Manukyan. Manukyan, a small skilled 18-year-old at 5’7″ and 140 lbs., posted a remarkable scoring line of 60 gp, 39-66-105 this season.
As mentioned above, SKA’s Anton Belov won the award for Most Gentlemanly Defenceman, but he also collected the prize for having put up the KHL’s best plus-minus (+34). That lead to a nice moment, as Belov donated the prize money (one million Rubles, or about $24,000 Canadian) to support children’s sledge hockey in Russia. We also got to watch a short video about the charity work undertaken by Belov and his wife Yelena.
Firmly in the tongue-in-cheek category was the KHL’s devising of an award to honour Salavat Yulaev Ufa goalie Andrei Gavrilov. It was Gavrilov, you may recall, who during a November game against Dynamo Moscow famously went for a drink of water while a three-on-one break was bearing down on him. And so Gavrilov went the first-ever “Nerves of Steel” award. The trophy itself? A silver water-bottle.
The evening closed with the traditional naming of the Golden Helmet award recipients — the six players named to the KHL’s All-Star Team. For 2016-17, they are:
- Goalie Igor Shestyorkin (SKA St. Petersburg)
- Defenceman Viktor Antipin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
- Defenceman Jakub Jeřábek (Vityaz Moscow Oblast)
- Forward Sergei Mozyakin (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
- Forward Jan Kovář (Metallurg Magnitogorsk)
- Forward Vadim Shipachyov (SKA St. Petersburg)
Congratulations to all the award-winners, and as mentioned, we have much more to come on the momentous decisions of the KHL Board of Directors today. Thank you for reading!
The awarding the 2016-17 KHL Golden Helmet Awards.