Spartak Moscow in 2017-18
2016-17 was Spartak Moscow’s second season since the historic club recovered from financial difficulties and returned to KHL action. Unfortunately, the team took a step back over the previous campaign; Spartak in 2016-17 scored the fifth-fewest goals in the KHL, and gave the fifth most. As a result, they dropped five spots in the standings, and missed the playoffs once again. So what went wrong, and what efforts have been made to fix it? Read on…
Spartak Moscow in 2016-17: 18 W — 3 OT/SO W — 6 OT/SO L — 33 L
6th in Bobrov Div., 13th in West Conf., 26th in KHL. Missed Playoffs.
Head Coach: Vadim Yepanchintsev
In: F Dmitry Chernykh (Salavat Yulaev Ufa); F Stanislav Chistov (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg); F Alexander Delnov (THK Tver (VHL]); F Arseny Khatsei (Severstal Cherepovets); F Alexander Komaristy (Metallurg Novokuznetsk); D Yevgeny Kulik (Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk); D Ville Lajunen (Jokerit Helsinki); F Ben Maxwell (HK Sochi); D Alexei Pepelyayev (HK Sochi); F Nikita Shatsky (Khimik Voskresensk [VHL]); F Vadim Shutov (THK Tver [VHL]); D Dmitry Sinitsyn (Dynamo Moscow); D Kirill Svyazov (Izhstal Izhevsk [VHL]); D Dmitry Yudin (SKA St. Petersburg)
Out: F Vadim Berdnikov (Unkown); D Yaroslav Dyblenko (New Jersey Devils [NHL]); D Matt Gilroy (Jokerit Helsinki); F Kirill Smirnov (Khimik Voskresensk [VHL]); F Tim Stapleton (EHC Olten [SUI-2]); F Alexander Vasilyev (Unknown)
Spartak completely re-worked their goaltending last summer, bringing in Nikita Bespalov and Markus Svensson, but things went awry in net in 2016-17. Bespalov, long a useful KHL backup, had a good run, posting a .926 sv% in a career-high 25 games. But a knee injury in mid-January ended his season early, and Svensson could not pick up the slack. The 33-year-old Swede came in following some nice seasons in his native country’s top league, but his rookie KHL campaign was a disaster; a sv% of .898, through 41 games, was second-worst in the league among the 48 goalies who played at least 20 matches. To put it another way, had Svensson provided league-average goaltending (about .921), Spartak would have given up 32 fewer goals, putting them 11th in the KHL in that category.
So it is something of a surprise that Spartak have stood pat in goal. Bespalov and Svensson will be back, and hopes will obviously be either for much improvement from the latter, or for the former to demonstrate that he can be a full-time starter. While both of those of those scenarios are very plausible — Spartak got a superb performance from Svensson in beating mighty SKA in St. Petersburg in February — they are neither one of them certain, and we shall see how it works out.
Unusually, Spartak were led in points in 2016-17 by a defenceman, but the red-and-whites will not have the services of Matt Gilroy this coming season, as he has moved on to Jokerit. Gilroy’s 7-31-38 in 57 games put him second in the entire KHL for points by defencemen, and will be nigh-impossible to replace, although it came at a cost: he was also tied for team-worst plus-minus at -18. The 23-year-old Dyblenko (51 gp, 4-7-11), off to seek his fortune in the NHL, will also be missed. Those departures leave capable veteran Dmitry Kalinin (45 gp, 7-5-12, with six of those goals coming on the powerplay) as the main returning rearguard for Spartak in 2016-17.
As far as replacing Gilroy is concerned, Lajunen is probably the key man. The 29-year-old Finn led Jokerit’s blueliners in goals last season with 10 (53 gp, 10-6-16 was his entire line), but has shown play-making chops in his three-year KHL career as well. While he almost certainly will not match Gilroy’s points production, Lajunen probably will be better, at least somewhat, at the defensive side of the game, so it may all balance out. We should probably keep an eye on the young ex-SKA defenceman Yudin as well. While he struggled badly last year (16 gp, 0-0-0, and somehow -6 on that powerhouse SKA team), he is only 21, and scored five points in just five games during a brief VHL stint. There is real potential there, and this is an astute acquisition.
With the fifth-fewest goals in the KHL, and their top scorer a defenceman, one might reasonably assume that Spartak’s 2016-17 forward group was not a mighty one, and indeed it was not. Ryan Stoa (57 gp, 22-14-36) and Lukáš Radil (56 gp, 12-21-33) did forge something of a useful partnership, with a variety of “third men,” on the team’s top line; those 22 goals of Stoa’s is a particularly nice number. However, Stoa and Radil were the only two forwards to score more than 20 points, and that is a damning indictment of the group as a whole. Konstantin Glazachev had a particularly disappointing season; after scoring 16-17-33 in 44 games in 2015-16, his line fell to 40 gp, 7-11-18 last time around. We must admit, however, that those 2016-17 numbers are a lot closer to his career scoring pace than was the previous season’s sparkling result, so it may a bit much too hope for a big resurgence from him in 2017-18.
And among the incoming forwards, there does not appear to be anyone who can trigger an offensive explosion. Maxwell and Chistov, the latter a former fifth-overall NHL draft pick, will bring some veteran nous to the team, but neither has ever been a white-hot scorer. Among the younger players, Shatsky scored 20 goals in a season twice while playing junior at the Vityaz club, and is still only 22, so perhaps this is the year he finds the range at the professional level. On the other hand, he scored only 7-8-15 in 49 games in the VHL last season, so it is just as likely that I am grasping at straws here.
In the final analysis, it is very hard to see how Spartak will score enough goals to get to the post-season. Barring a surprising breakthrough from somebody up front, the team will need its goaltending to come around in a major, major, way, and for its actually-quite-decent defence group to play to the very best of its ability. If both those things happen, there is a chance, but otherwise it figures to be another long season for Spartak fans. We shall see.
The Big Question: Based on the criteria laid out in the league’s new strategic plan, three teams will be leaving the KHL after 2017-18 — will Spartak be one of them? Well, Spartak were close to the bottom when the KHL revealed its rankings based on those criteria over the last three seasons, but the famous old team should be ok despite that. For one thing, the team was missing from the KHL for one of those three seasons, which hurt them in the rankings, but that 2014-15 campaign drops out of consideration for next spring’s compilation (and things have been mostly pleasantly quiet on the financial front). Furthermore, Spartak are the best-supported team among the three Soviet-era Moscow giants (Dynamo and CSKA are the other two), and their arena situation is excellent. They will, for the first time, play an entire season at the 12,000-seat VTB Arena, which is very good news. “Meh” results on the ice aside, Spartak fans would seem have little to fear in terms of their team’s KHL future.
Next up: Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk