Both Russian Olympic teams, women’s and men’s, are now ensconced at the site of the Games in South Korea, which means that the next couple of weeks around here will largely have to do with that competition. However, the KHL, despite now being well into its Olympic break, has not been entirely idle in terms of news. So read on, as get caught up on some re-signings, departing coaches, and the like…
An interesting arena situation has arisen for the KHL, as the league looks ahead to the first round of the playoffs. The problem is that there is a good chance that both Dynamo Moscow and Spartak Moscow will make the playoffs in the West Conference, with neither team holding home ice advantage for the opening round. That means that they would play their home games (Games 3, 4, and potentially 6 in a best-of-seven series) on the same day. The two clubs share a rink — the VTB Ice Palace at Legends Park — and so here we have a conflict.
And the league has come up with a somewhat odd solution. The KHL has reportedly said that whichever of the two ends up in eighth place in the Conference, and so faces SKA St. Petersburg in the first round, will get the use of Legends Park, while the seventh-place team will go elsewhere to face CSKA Moscow. The VTB is a state-of-the-art, brand-new, facility, with all the mod-cons, and it appears that the KHL would very like to have SKA play there rather than elsewhere.
As for where the seventh-place team will go: if that turns out to be Spartak, which is the current state of the standings, they will play their home games in the venerable Luzhniki Small Sports Arena, where they played much of last season. The Luzhniki was for many years the home of Dynamo, but they apparently will not return there should they need to move. Instead, they will seek lodging either in suburban Balashikha (the former home of Dynamo’s farm-team) or in also-nearby Podolsk at the home of playoff non-participants Vityaz Moscow Oblast. That, at least, is the situation as reported now (see the link above), and we will see what happens.
I should also note that Severstal Cherepovets may step up here and render the whole discussion moot, by overtaking either Spartak or Dynamo for the final playoff spot in the West.
A couple of East Conference teams have made front-office or coaching changes in the last week or ten days. At Salavat Yulaev Ufa, General Manager Leonid Vaisfeld was relieved of his duties in late January after almost three full seasons in charge. There have been no reports yet on who will replace him. Salavat Yulaev are struggling through a second straight season of under-achievement, and that fact likely lay behind the decision to send Vaisfeld away.
The move may be seen as a bit of a surprise at first glance; Salavat Yulaev were a talented bunch to start, with the likes of Linus Omark (right) on the books, and that was before Vaisfeld did good work in December, adding Vladimir E. Tkachyov and a solid goalie in Ivan Nalimov to the roster during Admiral Vladivostok’s recent troubles.
But appearances here may be a bit deceiving. Though Salavat Yulaev are currently seeded second in the East Conference, that is only because they are in first place in the very weak Chernyshyov Division (the KHL seeds division leaders first and second in each Conference). There are in fact five teams in the East with more points than Salavat Yulaev, and with just two games remaining the Ufa side has yet to mathematically clinch a playoff berth (without going into the gory details, goaltending was a problem early on, although there have been recent encouraging signs and the arrival of Nalimov should help). And all this comes after a 2016-17 season in which Salavat Yulaev flirted with missing the post-season and then crashed out in the first round to arch-rivals Ak Bars Kazan. So perhaps Vaisfeld’s departure is not such a surprise after all.
Meacnwhile, Kunlun Red Star Beijing have announced that Head Coach Bobby Carpenter and Assistant Igor Kravchuk will not be back behind the bench next season. Carpenter took up the post in early December of 2017, after the firing of Mike Keenan, and there have been some reports that he will remain with organization in one capacity or another. In the meantime, KRS will search for a coach who can repeat the tremendous job done by Vladimir Yurzinov Jr. in 2016-17 (Yurzinov somewhat surprisingly stepped down for family reasons this past summer).
Kunlun Red Star’s sophomore season can only be recorded as a disappointment. After a playoff appearance in their debut 2016-17 campaign, they will miss out this time around by more than 20 points when all is said and done. After a decent-enough start to 2017-18, the Chinese side suffered a dreadful second half of the season, picking up just 20 points of a potential 84. KRS are the lone KHL team whose regular season schedule ended before the Olympic break, and that may turn out to be something of a blessing, as the club can now begin work on at least some areas of the off-season “to do” list.
Finally, a couple of teams in the KHL’s East Conference have been making some early moves as regards next year’s roster. To that end, the above-discussed Salavat Yulaev this week signed defenceman Philip Larsen to a two-year contract extension. Larsen, who got previous KHL experience with Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk and Jokerit Helsinki, signed in Ufa this off-season after a year with the Vancouver Canucks, and has proven a very solid acquisition for the team from Bashkortostan. The 28-year-old Dane currently leads all KHL rearguards in points with a line of 53 gp, 11-26-37, and has also posted a +10 rating, tied for best on his team.
Lokomotiv Yaroslavl are another team locking up a key player, as they yesterday re-signed Canadian forward Max Talbot to a new one-year deal. This is the 33-year-old’s second season as a resolute two-way forward for the Yaroslavl team, and although his scoring numbers have dropped off (41 gp, 7-11-18 this time as opposed to 60 gp, 15-21-36 last year), he remains an important part of a very solid club. So it is excellent news for Lokomotiv’s fans that he will be back on the scene next season.
But the biggest re-signing of the week took place chez Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where Mr. Sergei Mozyakin, the KHL’s all-time leading scorer, has signed on for another two years. Mozyakin spent most of the 2016-17 campaign breaking KHL and Russian hockey scoring records, and while this season has him ranked “only” tenth in the league in points (42 gp, 19-23-42), it should be noted that he has missed about a month due to injury, not to mention this past summer’s departure of excellent line-mate Danis Zaripov. While he is now 36 years old, Mozyakin’s style of game — guile and cunning, with a deceptively wicked shot on top of that — is of a sort that can serve a player well even after his putative “best years” are behind him. He is currently in South Korea with the national team, preparing for the Olympics.
Mozyakin has stated, on more than one occasion, that he would like to play in the KHL long enough to have the opportunity to line up alongside his son. Andrei Mozyakin, now 16 years old, plays in Metallurg’s youth system, and yesterday he made his debut appearance for Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk, the club’s team in the top-level Russian junior league (the MHL). The younger Mozyakin did not feature in any of the scoring in a 2-1 victory over Avto Yekaterinburg, and played just 2:50 in the game, but he is coming along. Today’s rematch against Avto saw him up to 7:07 in ice time, although he still awaits his first point (he did receive his first MHL penalty today, for high-sticking). The day that the two Mozyakins take the ice together in a KHL match may not be so far away (h/t to Tomáš Vorčák).
Thank you for reading! Tomorrow at the blog we will have a women’s hockey update, and I plan to get a detailed look at the Russian women’s Olympic roster up on Thursday (it may be Friday, but in any case well before the WNT starts its Olympic tournament on Sunday). Our look at the men’s Olympic lineup will come early next week, as they do not begin their competition until next Wednesday. At some point in the meantime, we will have a look at what Vyacheslav Fetisov is up to these days, because it is really quite fascinating.