A Walk Through the KHL: October 25th, 2017
To the KHL we go, to get caught up on some news of the last couple of weeks! Read on, as we check out a nightmarish 17 minutes for Traktor Chelyabinsk, look in on the secret(s) of Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk’s good first half of the season, get up to date on player movement around the league, and so on and so forth! Also, we will hear from a couple of folks on potential future developments in the league…
Before we start on the team-by-team portion of the post, there were a couple of interesting interviews over the past week. The first was with Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman, Member of the KHL Board of Directors, and Russian State Duma Special Representative for Sport Vyacheslav Fetisov, on the league’s upcoming planned contraction. Fetisov, who was so instrumental in the creation of Admiral Vladivostok a few seasons ago, reiterated his support for the hockey project in the Far East, and suggested that for geopolitical and economic reasons Amur Khabarovsk and Admiral should not be among those clubs departing the league after this season. He also indicated that, contrary to what had been previously reported, it should not be only Russian clubs at risk of contraction.
That brings us to the second interview, with Slovan Bratislava General Manager Patrik Ziman. If non-Russian teams are at risk of contraction, Slovan — financially weak and not doing too well on the ice either — must surely have some worries. Ziman acknowledged the Slovak club’s financial problems, noting that at 12 million Euros per year they have the smallest budget in the KHL, and that they are stilled owed some sponsorship moneys going back to June (Slovan’s biggest sponsor seems to be online shopping company Cashback World, but Zimin did not say whether the money owed is from them or one of the club’s other partners). That last is a worrying note indeed, particularly with the KHL cracking down hard on clubs with arrears in wages.
On the positive side, Zimin did also state that the club is working to attract a major, long-term, new sponsor to help out. He also affirmed Slovan’s commitment to stay in the KHL rather than return to the Slovak Extraliga. We will see how it all works out, and hopefully Slovan can secure their KHL future.
A big hat-tip to Tomáš Vorčák for pointing out both those interviews.
To our team-by-team news bits (teams are presented in the order of the current Conference standings — number in brackets is the change in position since last week):
1 (–). Ak Bars Kazan (16-8, 50 pts.): The Tatar giants, who will be without top scorer Justin Azevedo for at least a month and maybe two, swung a deal this week to acquire forward Yaroslav Kosov from Metallurg Magnitogorsk in return for forward Chibisov. The 24-year-old Kosov had scored 2-5-7 in 19 games for Magnitka this season.
2 (–). Avangard Omsk Oblast (17-8, 47 pts.): A major trade for the Omsk side this month, as they acquired SKA St. Petersburg and Russian national team defenceman Maxim Chudinov from SKA. Chudinov had just two assists in 14 games for SKA this season, but that is off his usual pace; he’s an solid two-way blueliner. In return for Chudinov, Avangard gave up the rights to 17-year-old forward Dmitry Zavgorodny, currently with the Rimouski Océanic of the QMJHL.
3 (+2). Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk (14-11, 45 pts.): Neftekhimik have signed 23-year-old defenceman Alexander Sorokin to a one-year deal. Sorokin spent the last couple of years, plus the start of this season, at Neftyanik Almetyevsk of the VHL. Sorokin has been a defensive rearguard through most of his young career, but at seven points in 15 games for Neftyanik this season, may now have taken a big step forward in other areas. Neftekhimik have also signed Slovenian forward Žiga Jeglič, who had four assists in 15 games for Torpedo earlier this season.
A big reason for Neftekhimik’s success this season is their penalty-kill, which is both seldom-used (80 times short-handed, tied for fewest in the KHL) and very good (87.5%, behind only SKA). They’ve also taken 874 shots, second-most in the league (again trailing only SKA). In other words, this is a genuinely good team right now.
4 (+3). Barys Astana (15-11, 45 pts.): Nigel Dawes just keeps rolling along, and now has Sergei Mozyakin’s single-season goals records firmly in his sights. Dawes has 24 goals in 22 games, putting him halfway to the 48 scored by Mozyakin in the most recent regular season, and within range of the Magnitka legend’s 55 over the whole of the 2016-17 campaign.
5 (-2). Salavat Yulaev Ufa (14-12, 43 pts.): The Bashkir team has called up 22-year-old forward Ilya Baranov from Toros Neftekamsk of the VHL, and he’s probably one to keep an eye on. Baranov, who won the Bratina Cup with Dynamo Balashikha last season, was the VHL’s leading goalscorer when he departed for Ufa, having potted 10 in 15 games.
6 (-2). Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg (14-11, 40 pts.): An ugly incident at Avtomobilist this past week, as Canadian forward Taylor Beck was seriously hurt in a fight at practice with his team-mate, defenceman Nikolai Timashov. Beck suffered a fractured orbital bone, and will miss a month or so. It was the latest setback in what has been a tough introduction to the KHL for Beck, a former outstanding scorer in the AHL who has a line of just 3-4-7 in 20 games for Avtomobilist.
7 (-1). Metallurg Magnitogorsk (13-12, 39 pts.): This will be one team looking forward to the upcoming international break as a chance to sort some things out. After starting October at 5-1, Magnitka have lost 7-2 at home to CSKA, then 4-0 and 3-1 on the road to Ak Bars and Neftekhimik, respectively. Sergei Mozyakin is still trucking along (25 gp, 12-14-26), but Metallurg really miss the likes of Chris Lee, Viktor Antipin, Alexei Bereglazov, and Danis Zaripov, all of whom departed this summer.
UPDATE! They won’t be missing Lee much longer, it sounds like — journalist Igor Eronko reported this afternoon that the high-scoring defenceman has returned to Magnitogorsk:
Chris Lee signed 1-year deal with Magnitogorsk Metallurg #KHL
— Igor Eronko (@IgorEronko) October 26, 2017
8 (–). Kunlun Red Star Beijing (11-14, 38 pts.): KRS have cancelled the contract of Chinese-Canadian defenceman Zach Yuen (21 gp, 2-1-3 this season). However, all indications are that he will sign a new deal with the club, and report to the Harbin-based VHL farm team, Kunlun Red Star Heilongjiang.
9 (+1). Traktor Chelyabinsk (13-13, 37 pts.): Last week’s game against Ak Bars in Kazan will likely feature in Traktor fans’ nightmares for some time, or at least the first period will. Starting goalie Vasily Demchenko was pulled after nine minutes with the score already 3-0, only for replacement Pavel Francouz to give up another three before the game was 17 minutes old for a 6-0 first-intermission score. Things settled down thereafter (the final score would be 7-1 for Ak Bars), and at least it was just one game.
10 (-1). Sibir Novosibirsk Oblast (11-13, 31 pts.): Young defenceman Andrei Yermakov has been doing decently well for Sibir since being acquired from Torpedo earlier this month. The 23-year-old, who won a Gagarin Cup with SKA in 2014-15, scored 1-1-2 and went +1 in his first five games for the Novosibirsk side.
11 (–). Amur Khabarovsk (9-15, 29 pts.): The Far-Easterners went just 3-8 in September, but have recovered to post a 5-3 record this month so far (6-3 in their last nine games). A big key: the return to form of talismanic Finnish netminder Juha Metsola, who saw his sv% drop to near the .900 mark early in the season. He’s back up to .920, and pulled off a true theft last week against powerhouse Avangard in Omsk; Amur were outshot 36-14, but won it 1-0.
12 (+1) Admiral Vladivostok (9-16, 27 pts.): Igor Bobkov this weekend became the first netminder to pass the 5000-minute mark in Admiral’s short history. After a terrible start to the season, the 26-year-old Bobkov has boosted his sv% back up to .927, which bodes well for his team’s quest to close on those last playoff spots.
13 (-1). Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk (9-17, 23 pts.): Ugra have signed Swedish defenceman Tobias Viklund, who played last season for Kunlun Red Star, and the move has already borne some early fruit. The veteran rearguard has two goals in his first four games in Ugra’s colours, and the team won two of those matches, albeit both in extra time.
14 (–). Lada Tolyatti (6-19, 20 pts.): Lada’s signing of American forward Shane Harper looks like a good one so far; he has posted a line of 2-1-3 in five games for the Volga team. Harper had a look-see with the Los Angeles Kings at training camp this year, but did not make the final squad.
1 (–). SKA St. Petersburg (25-2, 73 pts.): SKA passed through potentially rough waters this past weekend in fine form, winning tough matches at home against Jokerit (4-3 in OT) and on the road against CSKA (5-2) in the space of three days. Ilya Kovalchuk has taken over the league scoring lead (27 gp, 20-14-34), just ahead of team-mate Nikita Gusev (27 gp, 13-20-33), while Patrik Hersley leads the KHL’s defencemen (23 gp, 10-13-23) and Igor Shestyorking has the best save percentage (.947). No surprise, perhaps, that they are still unbeaten in regulation time in 2017-18! At a certain point, we are going to run out of superlatives with this team.
2 (+1). CSKA Moscow (19-5, 53 pts.): The old Red Army team is playing the “squad depth” card in a big way this season, with 30 skaters already having played at least one game. This has led to some odd sights, including frequent healthy scratches for proven contributors like forward Geoff Platt (press-boxed since October 5th) and rearguard Igor Ozhiganov (just one game played since October 16th). However, the strategy may well pay off down the stretch, should the injury bug come calling.
3 (-1). Jokerit Helsinki (17-5, 52 pts.): The Finnish side’s 15-game winning streak came to an end last week in honourable fashion, in overtime versus SKA in St. Petersburg. We should note the contribution to that winning streak of goalie Ryan Zapolsky, who set a club record by not conceding a goal for 245:36 and should get a call from the American Olympic team selectors. A note of concern, however: Jokerit have now embarked on a streak of the wrong kind, having dropped three games in a row.
4 (+2). Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (15-11, 45 pts.): Sometimes coaching changes work: Dmitry Kvartalnov has guided Lokomotiv to a superb 7-2 record since taking the reins in early October, a run that has included road victories over CSKA and Jokerit in the last few days. One fly in the ointment, however: that league-worst-penalty kill has not improved, in fact it has fallen to 66.7% (32 GA on 96 opportunities).
5 (-1). Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (13-13, 41 pts.): Torpedo have lost four in a row after a 4-3 start to October, but there was one nice moment for the team last week. Players and coaches brought a truckful of food and other donations to the Sostradanie (“Compassion”) animal shelter in Nizhny Novgorod, and there are indeed pictures!
6 (-1). Dynamo Moscow (14-12, 38 pts.): Dynamo have gone 3-6 in October, with just one win in regulation, but at least Mikhail Varnakov seems to have found the range. The veteran scorer, an off-season arrival from Ak Bars, miss most of September through injury and recorded just two assists in his first seven games for Dynamo. Since then? Seven goals in six games.
7 (–). HK Sochi (12-12, 37 pts.): The Black Sea outfit has bolstered its roster in recent days with a couple of 23-year-old forwards. Vadim Khlopotov, who arrives from CSKA in return for cash, has scored 9-7-16 in 15 VHL games for Zvezda Chekhov this season, which is promising. Alexander Akmaldinov, former captain of Ugra’s junior team, arrives from Khanty-Mansiysk with one assist in three KHL games this season.
8 (–). Severstal Cherepovets (11-14, 36 pts.): They’re not going away, this pesky Severstal team. At considerable risk of being one of the contracted teams, Severstal are clinging tenaciously to the last playoff spot in the West. Most valuable have been the contributions of Slovak goalie Július Hudáček (.932 sv% in 21 games) and of forward Dmitry Kagarlitsky (25 gp, 9-15-24), who is on course to better last season’s career high of 48 points.
9 (+3). Spartak Moscow (12-13, 32 pts.): A move that has worked out well? Spartak’s claiming of forward Artyom Podshendyalov off waivers from Dynamo Moscow in early October. The 27-year-old from Yakutsk scored just 1-2-3 in 15 games for Dynamo this season, but has a line of 2-3-5 in nine matches for Spartak, who have suddenly won four in a row.
10 (–). Dinamo Minsk (10-15, 31 pts.): Today’s game in Moscow against CSKA marked the first time this season that a goalie other than Jhonas Enroth started a game for the Belarusan team. With Enroth suspended (“punching with the blocker” was the crime), 23-year-old Mikhail Karnaukhov go the call; given the opposition and venue, 29 saves on 33 shots in a 4-1 loss probably qualifies for a passing grade though not a stellar one.
11 (-2). Vityaz Moscow Oblast (9-18, 29 pts.): Vityaz have signed the Croatian national team captain, and former Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks forward, Borna Rendulić. The 25-year-old had been playing for Lahti Pelicans in Finland, and has had a good start to his KHL career, with a goal and an assist in three games for Vityaz. To clear a foreign player slot for Rendulić, Vityaz released Finnish forward Jesse Mankinen.
12 (-1). Slovan Bratislava (7-19, 25 pts.): Cash-strapped they may be (see above), but Slovan have managed a very useful signing this month in Canadian forward Zach Boychuk. Since arriving in early October, Boychuk has recorded at least a point in five of six games for Slovan (6 gp, 2-4-6 is his line), which will do just fine. Slovan are apparently looking, however, to cut ties with off-season arrival Jan Buchtele, having placed the forward on waivers this weekend.
13 (–). Dinamo Riga (4-20, 11 pts.): After recently signing Nikolai Zherdev, Dinamo have now added another former high NHL draft pick to the roster: the Latvians have signed forward Stanislav Chistov (5th overall to Anaheim in 2001). Chistov had been on the books at Spartak, but playing for their VHL farm club Khimik Voskresensk, where he scored 2-5-7 in nine games.
A last, non-KHL note: there was a nice ceremony in Moscow today to unveil a monument to Soviet hockey legend Valery Kharlamov. Former colleagues including Vladislav Tretyak, Alexei Kasatonov, Alexander Yakushev, and his old line-mate Boris Mikhailov attended the event; you can see a picture of the monument in the linked article.
Thank you for reading!