Farewell to Slovan Bratislava
We talked about this sad situation a week and a half ago, and today official confirmation has arrived; Slovan Bratislava will not take part in the 2019-20 KHL season, ending their seven-year run in the league. Read on, for some thoughts.
I won’t go into detail on the development of this story this month; you can check out this post from earlier in May for the full background. The basic outline: Slovan Bratislava, the KHL’s representative in Slovakia, has been in dire financial shape for a couple of seasons now, with that situation also taking its inevitable toll on their on-ice performance. In April, it was reported that the money problems had been solved by the arrival of a new co-owner, but that deal feel through in the end. A small sliver of hope that emerged last week proved unfounded, and so here we are.
Slovan’s story will go on; the team’s announcement of their departure from the KHL was accompanied with the news that they will apply to re-join the Slovak Tipsport Liga. Slovan played in Slovakia’s national league from 1994 to 2012, and won eight titles there along the way. Their last Slovakian championship was won in 2011-12, immediately prior to their joining the KHL.
However, there are some hurdles to clear before Slovan can rejoin their old league; the club still owes money to the city of Bratislava for use of the Ondrej Nepela Arena, and there are wage arrears to players to be paid as well (ex-Slovan forwards Jeff Taffe and Kyle Chipchura spoke out about the debts on the weekend). According to the reliable Igor Eronko, the club owes about seven million Euros to various parties, which is more than half of the KHL salary cap for a season. Furthermore, the front-office individuals who have drawn most of the blame for the current fiasco, namely club President Juraj Široký and Sports Director Oldřich Štefl, appear to be remaining in their positions, which will not please the Slovan fans (the kindest interpretation of events must still concede that the current mess came about on Široký’s and Štefl’s watch).
Given the mess that Slovan have been in for some time now, the KHL may be forgiven for a certain feeling of relief that the situation is now resolved, however unhappily — the league also deserves its share of criticism for not having taken a firmer line on it sooner. But make no mistake, Slovan Bratislava will be missed. They are exactly the sort of team that the league is most interested in for its European expansion plans: a famous, well-established club in a hockey country. And during their time in the KHL, before the club’s dark days hit, some famous Slovakian hockey players like Miroslav Šatan and Ľubomír Višňovský wrapped up splendid careers with solid seasons in Bratislava. So while Slovan’s departure may have a short-term “addition by subtraction” effect for the KHL, this is a sad day for the league, and we will see how it affects further expansion efforts to the west.
(As a side note, it may also require the KHL to do some restructuring for next season, as Slovan’s departure leaves 11 teams in the West Conference versus 13 in the East. Avangard Omsk, currently based in Balashikha while their home arena is rebuilt, are the obvious candidate team for a move westwards, although Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod are also a possibility. The league will likely makes that decision when its Board of Directors meets on Tuesday)
And it is a sad time also, of course, for Slovan Bratislava and their fans, although here again a certain element of relief may creep in, assuming that the club can get itself established in the Slovakian league. Could they one day return to the KHL? It is certainly not impossible; Spartak Moscow dropped out of the KHL for financial reasons in 2014, and returned a year later to become a decent solid club in the league. However, Slovan have a long way to go before that possibility is even up for discussion. In the meantime, I wish Slovan and their fans all the best of luck — I sincerely hope that the team can sort out the financial side of things and return to stability and on-ice success in the Tipsport Liga. And I will certainly keeping an eye on their progress in that regard.
Thank you for reading.