Alex Ovechkin to KHL would be blessing in disguise for Capitals

Adam Proteau
Alex Ovechkin (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

At first blush, the idea of Alex Ovechkin leaving the NHL to go home to his native Russia and play in the Kontinental League seems screwy. Unfortunately, after nine NHL seasons, Ovechkin has failed to live up to expectations – if not as an individual, then certainly as the driver of a team.

His Washington Capitals are awash in mediocrity and have moved from being a bona fide Cup contender to a draft lottery candidate. He won his second consecutive Rocket Richard Trophy, but had the NHL’s third-worst plus-minus (minus-35). Where once he was the Hockey Elvis, he’s now the King in his unhappy later years, surviving on what he’s always been good at, but never growing as an artist.

So now when you wonder if Ovechkin could actually leave the NHL for the KHL, the question doesn’t seem far-fetched at all. Increasingly, it’s near-fetched. And to this writer, it seems like the best solution for the star and the Capitals. Read more

Arena of KHL’s Ukraine-based Donbass Donetsk looted, set on fire

Rory Boylen
Donbass Donestk

Back in March, we brought to your attention that the KHL’s only Ukraine-based team, Donbass Donetsk, had to move out of their home rink during a playoff run and play out of Bratislava in Slovakia instead. The area in Donetsk had become too dangerous from the proxy Russian invasion.

Now, it appears Donbass Donetsk may not be able to play out of their home arena next season, if at all.

According to reports, Donbass’ rink was looted of computers, TVs, communication equipment and a car by armed people, and then set on fire. Read more

Q&A with Mike Keenan: The KHL, the NHL and a lot of karaoke

Matt Larkin

‘Iron’ Mike Keenan has enjoyed a poetic spring. Almost 20 years to the day after winning the Stanley Cup as coach of the New York Rangers, the legend added to his resume by winning the Kontinental League’s Gagarin Cup with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. His first season coaching in the world’s No. 2 pro league culminated in a thrilling, seven-game victory over Lev Prague in the final. Keenan caught up with THN to describe his fascinating journey, including the KHL’s high standard of play, Russia’s crazy drivers, karaoke and the possibility of an NHL return.

THE HOCKEY NEWS: What was your No. 1 reason for accepting a KHL coaching job in the first place?

MIKE KEENAN: I took the job because I wanted to get back into coaching and the NHL showed no interest. It was not only an opportunity to experience a different hockey setting, but also a cultural opportunity to study other people from a different country.

THN: Paul Maurice had a similar experience before you, leaving the NHL to coach Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Did you seek him out for any advice before you embarked?

KEENAN: I talked to Paul quite a bit prior to my departure or even accepting the job, just to get a feel for the environment I was going to face. Just as importantly, I wanted some detailed information about the organization itself.

THN: Did he warn you about anything?

KEENAN: Not really. He had his own opinion, and I respected it, but I probably went with a completely different approach than what Paul did. In fairness, I’m a little bit older. I think he was a bit more anxious about coaching in the NHL, and I was more interested in the experience.

THN: What were your first impressions of KHL players? How did they respond to you in the early going?

KEENAN: They were really great. We pretty much outlined the expectations we should have of each other from day one. Then we had a brief training camp in Magnitogorsk for a few days, then we went to an Olympic training site in Garmisch, Germany. So we got into more details about our program and what we expected on and off the ice. But the group was really receptive and easy to work with.

THN: Were you recognized as easily around town, or did a KHL coaching gig afford you more anonymity than an NHL one?

KEENAN: Magnitogorsk isn’t a very big city. It’s about 400,000 people. The hockey team’s a focal point for the community, and immediately I was recognized by the public everywhere I went.

THN: Any early culture shock? What stood out to you as different from home?

KEENAN: We had a driver, and I don’t know if there were any rules on the road, but it was completely different than what you’d experience in North America. They’re a lot more aggressive. They drive fast. The other aspect is that I was anticipating a little bit different food menu (laughs). As it turned out, it wasn’t a great deal different. I was surprised. There were a lot of fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh fish, meat, poultry. The food was great. The thing that surprised me immediately was the driving. But other than that, I was at the arena most of the time. If not, I was back at the baza where I lived, which is like a university dormitory. They’ve got a KHL station which is 24/7, 365 hockey. I watched quite a bit of that, and I also had access to English news like BBC and CNN, and some other English channels. So between that and the hockey, that’s pretty much of the existence of our home life.

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Top 5: ex-NHLers in the KHL this season

Josh Elliott
Michael Leighton on the Philadelphia Flyers

The Kontinental League’s Gagarin Cup championship came to a conclusion a couple weeks ago, with coach Mike Keenan’s Metallurg Magnitogorsk winning the coveted trophy as the league’s top team.

That win came with the help of a former NHLer you might not know is still playing in Russia: former Toronto Maple Leaf and Carolina Hurricane checker Tim Brent. Brent couldn’t find a home the NHL after his Hurricanes contract expired, but now he’s a KHL champ.

Not bad.

In fact, there are a number of familiar names who have extended their careers by going overseas to play in the KHL.

Here are five former NHLers who earned top-five honours in one the KHL’s statistical categories this year.
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Connor McDavid drafted 77th overall in KHL draft

Rory Boylen
Connor McDavid

The Kontinental League is holding its 2014 entry draft today and one team laid claim to the likely top pick in next year’s NHL draft.

Erie Otters sensation Connor McDavid was selected by Medvescak Zagreb in the second round of the Russian league’s entry draft, becoming the latest high profile NHL prospect to get picked up in this process. He just finished a phenomenal season in the Ontario League, scoring 28 goals and 99 points in 56 regular season games and 19 points in 14 playoff games.

But will he ever play for Zagreb? Likely not.

The team will now own McDavid’s KHL rights, for potential use during the next inevitable NHL lockout, or for a minor trade. It’s not the first time this has happened. Read more

Mike Keenan tossed in the air, sings karaoke after Gagarin Cup championship

Rory Boylen
Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan became the first North American coach to win the KHL’s Gagarin Cup championship Wednesday, when his Metallurg Magnitogorsk team triumphed 7-4 over Lev Prague in Game 7.

Led by Sergei Mozyakin’s 33 points in 21 playoff games, Metallurg also won its first Gagarin Cup – and its first Russian title since 2006-07, a year before the Russian Super League became the Kontinental League.

The win comes 20 years after Keenan led the New York Rangers to a Stanley Cup championship. For a good read on Keenan’s experience in the foothills of the Ural Mountains, check out this piece from Grantland’s Katie Baker.

On the ice after the win, the Gagarin Cup was being passed around and here (at about the 1:07 mark) you can see Keenan being lifted up into the air by his players in celebration.

Good enough, right? How often are we going to see Iron Mike being embraced in this way?

Even better is this clip, though. In it, you’ll see Keenan do his best to sing karaoke in Russian. He nails the chorus, at least:

So today we see the rare, happy-go-lucky side of Keenan, but his madness can never be too far away.

After his team lost Game 6 in overtime, Keenan lost it on the referees, apparently over two penalty calls in the first period that led to two goals against. He also wouldn’t have been happy that his team just blew a lead in the final minutes of regulation, and then lost in OT. You can see his rage in this video – and he doesn’t like the security guy getting in his business either:

Congratulations Magnitogorsk and Mike Keenan.

Please come back to the NHL, Iron Mike.

Follow Rory on Twitter

The best players in the world you’ve never heard of

Jan Kovar (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

The NHL is the best league in the world, and thanks to fallen prejudice no corner of the globe goes unchecked by team scouts. But every year, a Damien Brunner or Viktor Fasth comes over, seemingly out of nowhere. And there are plenty of drafted gems honing their games overseas.

With that in mind, here’s a look at our all-Euro team for 2013-14. The criteria? Players can’t be from North America (sorry, Kevin Dallman) and cannot have spurned the NHL (Ilya Kovalchuk). Also, there has to be some chance of them coming over here, so no players nearing the ends of their careers.

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