A big day in the KHL today, as the league’s Board of Directors met to discuss the season just finished, and look ahead to 2018-19. And not only that — the BoD meeting was followed by the traditional Awards Ceremony that formally closed the 2017-18 KHL season. Read on, for quick write-ups of both events!
The KHL’s Board of Directors met today, prior to the season-ending Awards Ceremony, but this year’s May gathering lacked the fireworks that we saw a year ago. The league revealed the results of 2017-18’s rating system for each team, part of the new strategic plan. No surprise that Ugra Khanty-Mansiysk and Lada Togliatti, the two teams that will not return to the league next season, were at the bottom. The KHL had originally planned to exclude three clubs, but Severstal Cherepovets, third-last in the ratings, saved themselves, at least for one season, by making the playoffs. Spartak Moscow and Amur Khabarovsk were the big performers in the ratings, rising six spots each (to 17th and 19th respectively) after breaking long post-season droughts. SKA St. Petersburg, unsurprisingly, took the top spot just ahead of CSKA Moscow.
The biggest news arising from the BoD meeting was that the KHL has concrete plans to play some 2018-19 regular-season games in Vienna, Austria, and Zurich, Switzerland. No teams or precise dates were announced, but the Austrian visit will take place in October, and the trip to Switzerland in November. Of course, these events do provide some interesting fodder for speculation about the KHL’s future expansion plans, which may very well include those two countries.
There has been talk of Jokerit Helsinki also venturing outside of the KHL “footprint” next season to play some games in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, but no new details were forthcoming on that during the BoD meeting. We will see if it is still in the cards. And Barys Astana announced today that they may play a game in Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, with to encouraging the creation of a second KHL team in the country. Again, we await further details on that.
There were some interesting developments today involving a couple of KHL teams’ homes next season. CSKA Moscow are moving from their home of more than half a century, the 5600-seat CSKA Ice Palace, to the Legends Park Arena (aka the VTB Ice Palace), which opened in 2015. In fact, CSKA’s chief sponsor, oil company Rosneft, today announced that they have bought the Legends Park rink, which seats 12000, from Russian Hockey Federation Chairman of the Board Arkady Rotenberg. CSKA will share Legends Park with their old Spartak Moscow. Dynamo, who played at Legends Park for the past couple of seasons, are moving to the ten-year-old Megasport Arena until their own new rink, at Petrovsky Park, is ready for them in January.
One of the effects of the arena shuffle is that the release of the full KHL schedule for next season has been pushed back by a month, to mid-July. However, the league did announce that the 2018-19 regular season will begin on September 1st, and run until February 22nd, with the playoffs to follow from February 25th to about April 25th. The divisions have been restructured a bit with the departures of Ugra and Lada, with the big change being Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod’s move from the West Conference back to the East.
Those were the big items up for discussion, although the league did also discuss at the length its situation as regards TV broadcasts: ratings were up last season, with more games shown in HD, and the league is looking to be viewable in more international markets. In-person attendance at KHL games in 2017-18 averaged just shy of 6400, the third-highest average in the history of the league (we will take a detailed team-by-team look at attendance in June). You can see a full report of the meeting here, and also check the KHL’s own Twitter account.
With the Board of Directors meeting finished, attention turned to the 2017-18 Season-Closing Ceremony of the KHL, which involved the handing out of awards, both team and individual. You can see the full list here, but I will mention just a few of the highlights:
IIHF President KHL René Fasel was on hand to give a special award, the Syrius Award, to SKA St. Petersburg forward Pavel Datsyuk. The 39-year-old this season became the first player to have won all of the Stanley Cup, the Gagarin Cup, a World Championship gold medal, and an Olympic gold medal. A tremendous feat, and Datsyuk will be back for at least one more season. He also collected the KHL’s annual “Service to Hockey” award, given to the veteran who combines hockey ability with mentorship of younger players.
Datsyuk was not the only SKA player to make a couple of appearances on the podium; forward Nikita Gusev took home the Golden Stick award as the KHL’s most outstanding player, after a season in which he scored 22-40-62 in 54 games to finish second by a point in the scoring race. A very worthy choice, although there were certainly a couple of other candidates (the other nominees for the award were Nigel Dawes of Barys Astana and Dmitry Kagarlitsky of Severstal Cherepovets, both deserving figures as well). Gusev also took home the Most Gentlemanly Forward award (Yegor Martynov of Avangard Omsk was deemed the Most Gentlemanly Defenceman).
For the second straight year, the KHL recognized the women’s game at its awards ceremony, handing out the Women’s Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Player award. The nominees this time around were forward Olga Sosina of Agidel Ufa, her team-mate goalie Anna Prugova, and the 2016-17 award-winner, Tornado Moscow Oblast forward Anna Shokhina. This time, it was the redoubtable Sosina who won the prize after a season in which she was third in regular-season scoring (22 gp, 19-24-43) and first in the playoffs (5 gp, 5-5-10). And of course, she also led Agidel to their first-ever Women’s Hockey League championship.
The one bit of controversy of the evening revolved around the Alexei Cherepanov Award, the KHL’s Rookie of the Year prize. That trophy, named for the Avangard Omsk forward who died at the age of only 19 during a 2008 KHL game, went to Traktor Chelyabinsk forward Vitaly Kravtsov. Kravtsov did indeed have a fine rookie season, particularly in the playoffs, but it paled in comparison to the one enjoyed by another 18-year-old, Eeli Tolvanen of Jokerit Helsinki. What happened? Well, to make a long story short, it turns out that the Alexei Cherepanov Award is restricted, in its regulations, to Russian players, and Tolvanen is a Finn. A bit of an odd rule, likely left over from the days when the league included no teams from outside Russia (or outside the USSR, previously), but there it is. And prior to today, the rule had never before been an issue.
Other “voted” awards passed without any controversy at all. Zinetula Bilyaletdinov of Gagarin Cup champions Ak Bars Kazan was named Coach of the Year, a fairly unimpeachable choice. Goalie of the Year went to Traktor’s Pavel Francouz, and that was as obvious a decision as you will see. Tomorrow, we will take an in-depth look at the East Conference goalies and defences, and you will see what I mean by that! As for the Golden Helmet Awards, the KHL’s season-ending all-star team nods, those too were fairly straightforward (although I was very pleased to see Kiselevich in particular get the nod, as I think he is quite under-rated):
- Goalie: Pavel Francouz (Traktor Chelyabinsk)
- Defencemen: Nikita Tryamkin (Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg), Bogdan Kiselevich (CSKA Moscow)
- Forwards: Nikita Gusev (SKA St. Petersburg), Justin Azevedo (Ak Bars Kazan), Dmitry Kagarlitsky (Severstal Cherepovets)
As for the statistical awards, SKA’s Ilya Kovalchuk was the season’s top scorer (53 gp, 31-32-63), the first player other than Sergei Mozyakin or Alexander Radulov to win that particular price. Nigel Dawes of Barys Astana (now with Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg) was the top goal-man, finding the net 35 times. And Salavat Yulaev Ufa’s Danish rearguard Philip Larsen was the top-scoring defenceman with 38 points in 54 games.
There were other awards handed out (and again, you can see the full list here), but I will mention just one: Igor Eronko of Sport-Express won the KHL’s prize as the season’s Best Journalist, and he is an excellent choice indeed. Congratulations Mr. Eronko, and indeed congratulations to all the other award-winners on the night!
And with that, the 2017-18 season of Russian hockey is officially over! All that is left is some looking back, and we will return to that here tomorrow with the second part of our examination of KHL goaltending this past year. In the meantime, thank you for reading!