The KHL formally wrapped up its 2018-19 season a few days ago with its annual Awards Ceremony, and we are now officially in the land of 2019-20. But the handing-out of trophies was not the only event on the KHL calendar last week; the league also held a meeting of its teams to discuss a few matters related to the upcoming campaign as well. Read on for some talk of what came out of that meeting, and we’ll take a look at the awards ceremony as well!
As we discussed last week, the sad departure of Slovan Bratislava from the KHL has led to some re-shuffling of the conferences and divisions. Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod will return to the West Conference after a season in the East, and will take Slovan’s spot in the Tarasov Division with CSKA, Vityaz, Lokomotiv, Sochi, and Dinamo Minsk. That leaves the East Conference’s divisions unbalanced, so Sibir Novosibirsk are moving from the Chernyshev Division to the Kharlamov, where they will play alongside Avtomobilist, Ak Bars, Neftekhimik, Metallurg, and Traktor.
There was an option to have Avangard Omsk move over from the East, given that they are a de facto Moscow-area team at the moment, at least temporarily. But they will remain in their traditional Chernyshev Division spot, with Amur, Admiral, Kunlun Red Star, Barys, and Salavat Yulaev.
Jokerit are the 2018-19 “champions” in the KHL’s ratings scheme. These ratings rank the teams based on on-ice performance, marketing potential, and financial state, and were introduced a couple of years ago as part of the league’s strategic plan. Jokerit’s rise, which took them to the top of the table from third last summer, was driven largely by improved TV coverage of the team. The other big riser was Dinamo Riga, who enjoyed improved on-ice fortunes and an accompanying rise in their attendance and financial state to move seven places to 16th. The bottom club in the rankings was Admiral Vladivostok, still recovering (but definitely recovering) from the financial woes of the last couple of seasons, while Sibir’s troubles over the last few season resulted in their taking the biggest fall, six places down to 20th.
One of the intriguing notes to come out of the past week was that the KHL is considering re-instituting its youth draft. The draft was last held in 2016, but was not terribly popular among the clubs, particularly those with strong youth programs of their own. However, the KHL now seems to be looking for ways to distribute the talent more equitably, and well as to keep young players from getting “bottled up” at clubs with good junior programs. No word yet on how the draft will work if it is reinstated, but it will presumably allow teams to “protect” a number of their prized junior players, as it did before.
The KHL is also considering instituting a salary floor, with a majority of the teams in favour of it. The KHL will play 2019-20 with a “soft” salary cap of 800 million rubles per team (about 16.5 million Canadian dollars); teams can exceed the cap, but must pay a 30% luxury tax if they do so. In 2020-21, the “hard” cap of 900 million rubles comes in, and presumably we will see a cap floor in the neighbourhood of 350 million to 400 million rubles.
Finally, this coming season will see the KHL adopt some new analytical tools, in partnership with German analytics company SAP. The league will have tracking technology, both with the players and with the puck, at all games in 2019-20. We wait to see how much of the data gathered will be available to the public, but it’s exciting news nonetheless. Even more exciting, at least for hockey-history buffs like myself, is that the league has announced that it is embarking on a project to collect and digitize boxscores for games going back to the 1946-47 season, the first season of the Soviet Championship. That’s a fascinating endeavour, and I very much look forward to seeing what comes of it.
As for the KHL Awards Ceremony, well, it was a good night to be an Ufa-based goalie! For the third year, the Women’s Hockey League’s Most Outstanding Player award was announced as part of the KHL festivities, and it went this time to Agidel Ufa goalie Anna Prugova. Prugova’s club-mate, Salavat Yulaev Ufa goalie Juha Metsola, was also named the KHL’s Best Goalie for this past season. A few other highlights of the awards night (you can see the full list of winners here):
- Lokomotiv Yaroslavl goalie Ilya Konovalov was an easy choice for the Alexei Cherepanov Award, given annually to the KHL’s best rookie.
- Igor Nikitin of CSKA Moscow won the Best Coach prize, have led the old Red Army Team to its first post-Soviet championship and won the regular season title into the bargain. A decent enough choice, although I do believe that my vote would have gone to Avangard Omsk’s Bob Hartley, to did a tremendous job under difficult circumstances.
- Newly-naturalized Kazakhstan and Barys Nur-Sultan rearguard Darren Dietz won the “Best Defenceman” award, having led all KHL blueliners in points this season.
- The “Golden Helmet” awards, given to the six players selected for the season-ending All-Star team, went to: goalie Juha Metsola (Salavat Yulaev Ufa), defencemen Darren Dietz (Barys Nur-Sultan) and Nikita Nesterov (CSKA Moscow), and forwards Teemu Hartikainen (Salavat Yulaev Ufa), Mikhail Grigorenko (CSKA Moscow), and Ilya Mikheyev (Avangard Omsk). Worthy choices all of them, although league scoring champion Nikita Gusev and the the 2018-19 goals leader Kirill Kaprizov are conspicuous by their absence.
- And an award that’s a personal favourite of mine: the “Loyalty to Hockey” award, given annually to the KHL’s best veteran mentor, went to CSKA Moscow forward Alexander Popov.
Thank you for reading, and tomorrow we take a look at some very interesting off-season developments in the VHL, Russia’s second-tier men’s professional league!