The KHL in 2018-19
The KHL’s new strategic plan, unveiled last year, got its first big test today, as the League’s Board of Governors met to determine, among the other things, the composition of the league for the coming season and the details of the salary cap. A full recap of what was decided can be seen at the league website, but read on here for a quick discussion of the main points.
We have known for the last 10 months or so that the KHL intended to contract to 24 teams for 2018-19 by getting rid of three teams, but today’s meeting saw a slight relaxing of that plan. Only two teams have been shown the door: Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk and Lada Tolyatti. Neither of those names will be a surprise, as both Ugra and Lada have long been absent from the playoff picture, and both play in small arenas (although Lada, it must be said, did a pretty good job at filling theirs). The third team excluded, had there been one, would likely have been Severstal Cherepovets, but their nigh-miraculous run to the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 appears to have saved them, at least for now.
So it will be a 25-team field for 2018-19, but the original goal in the strategic plan, that of 24 teams, remains in effect. Reports today indicate that at least one team will depart the league after 2018-19, and more if the KHL has serious applications from potential new members.
As for Ugra and Lada, they are expected to join the VHL, as Metallurg Novokuznetsk did upon their expulsion from the KHL last spring. Both teams have played in Russia’s second league; Lada did so from 2010-2014, due to arena issues, while Ugra spent two seasons there, on their way up to the KHL, from 2008-2010. Of note: Ugra finished as champions in both their VHL campaigns. What will become of the clubs’ junior teams remains to be seen, although Metallurg’s remained in the top-tier MHL this season despite the parent club’s demotion.
With the Olympics now out of the way for another four years, KHL teams in 2018-19 will play 60-62 games (the final number has not been determined), with the season scheduled to start on September 1st. Breaks for Euro Hockey Tour play will remain in effect. There has also been some talk of a reform to the playoff format, under which the third round would see the teams from the two Conferences cross over, as is currently done in the MHL. Under the system in use now, of course, the third round is the Conference Finals, and the teams do not cross over until the Gagarin Cup Final.
The schedule for 2018-19 will be released in mid-June.
The KHL also softened its stance on the salary cap slightly, by pushing back the anticipated introduction of a “hard” salary cup until 2020-21. This was done to give teams a little more time to get their rosters sorted out. For 2018-19, the salary cap will be a “soft” 850 million rubles per team, with a 20% luxury tax on payments over that limit. In 2019-20, the cap will drop to 800 million rubles, with a 30% luxury tax. Then, in 2020, the hard cap of 900 million rubles comes into effect. Previous plans to have a 600 million ruble hard cap with each team allowed two players exempt from the limit have been discarded. There had also been some rumours during the Olympics that the KHL would do away with the salary cap altogether, presumably to allow for the creation of “base teams” for the national side, but to its credit the league has stuck to its guns.
One further note: players 21 years old or younger will not count towards the salary cap.
To finish on a lighter note, the KHL also determined today that the 2018-19 All-Star Week celebrations will be held in two cities in Tatarstan. Nizhnekamsk will host the All-Star games of the junior MHL and of the Women’s Hockey League, while the KHL’s festivities will take place in Kazan. All those events will take place next January.
This is just a quick look at the nuts and bolts of what happened today, but a quick analysis suggests that the league has done well at sticking to the plan. Not in all particulars of course, with only two teams out instead of three and some relaxed salary cap moves, but the overall plan — fewer teams and a tighter salary cap — remains intact. More is certainly to come on this story in the coming days, although not before we take a preview of the third round of the KHL playoffs (possibly the very last Conference Finals, if the proposed playoff reform goes through). This year’s Conference Finals will see SKA St. Petersburg take on CSKA Moscow in the West, while in the East it will be Ak Bars Kazan against the upstarts Traktor Chelyabinsk. The West series starts tomorrow, and tomorrow we will also have that preview of both match-ups. Thank you for reading!