KHL Western Conference preview
KHL Western Conference preview
With the Kontinental League season under way, the league released a preview of its upcoming season. Here is the outlook for each of the teams in the Western Conference.
Atlant Moscow Region
Head coach: Sergei Svetlov (replaced Janne Karlsson during the previous season)
Last season: Playoff first round (lost 1-4 to SKA)
Key arrivals: Evgeny Artyukhin (SKA), Vitaly Atyushov (Salavat Yulaev), Bobby Sanguinetti (Carolina Hurricanes)
Prospects: Last season came close to disaster for Atlant, with the team well out of the playoff hunt for most of the early season. With Svetlov at the helm, the Mytishchi men surged in the New Year, sneaking into eighth place in the West, securing a playoff berth. This year, Svetlov is under more pressure for better results thanks to the arrivals of Carolina’s Bobby Sanguinetti and SKA’s Evgeny Artyukhin. GM and former NHLer Alexei Zhamnov is constructing a competitive roster without mortgaging the future of his club.
Head coach: John Torchetti (from Houston Aeros, replaced Vyacheslav Butsaev this summer)
Last season: Conference semifinal (lost 1-4 to Dynamo Moscow)
Key arrivals: Alexei Morozov (Ak Bars), Nikolai Zaitsev (Sibir), Andrei Pervyshin (SKA)
Prospects: No North American coach has ever won a major trophy in Russia, so it’s surprising one of the oldest clubs in Russia has turned overseas for help in Torchetti. Last season showed signs of progress – the playoff series win over Lev Prague was CSKA’s first post-season win in five years – but the abrupt firing of former head coach Valery Bragin highlighted the impatience of the contending team. To keep his job, Torchetti will have to manage expectations in a competitive conference with top contenders SKA and Dynamo.
Dinamo Minsk (Belarus)
Head coach: Alexander Andriyevsky (replaced Kari Heikkila in Oct. 2012)
Last season: Failed to make the playoffs
Key arrivals: Derek Meech (Winnipeg Jets), Jacob Mikflikier (Biel)
Prospects: Belarus plays host to the 2014 World Championship, but Dinamo’s focus will be cutting payroll and letting the kids play in hope of sneaking into the playoffs. There’s hasn’t been much roster movement, just a few departures – former NHLer Tim Stapleton being the most notable. However, the arrival of Meech, a fringe member of Detroit’s Stanley Cup winning roster in 2008, has potential, while Mikflikier brings a formidable scoring record from Switzerland, where he posted 50 points in 48 games last season.
Dinamo Riga (Latvia)
Head coach: Artis Abols (replaced Pekka Rautakallio in November 2012)
Last season: Failed to make the playoffs, won the Nadezhda Cup
Key arrivals: Marcel Hossa, Alexander Nijivijs, Oskars Cibulis (all from Lev), Sandis Ozolinsh (Atlant)
Prospects: Slovakian international Hossa, brother of Hawks star Marian, has reached hero status after his success in the early years of the KHL. His return from Kazan and Prague will ease fans who were concerned the club was becoming a talent farm for the KHL’s wealthiest teams. Martins Karsums’ move to Dynamo was the latest in a growing list of Latvian exports. It remains to be seen if Hossa can elevate Riga to a potential playoff dark horse.
Donbass Donetsk (Ukraine)
Head Coach: Andrei Nazarov (replaced Julius Supler this summer)
Last season: Failed to reach the playoffs
Key arrivals: Ruslan Fedotenko (Philadelphia Flyers), Oleg Piganovich (Avangard), Maxim Yakutsenya (Traktor)
Prospects: After narrowly missing out on the post-season in their inaugural season, Donbass is determined to see some playoff action. They've brought in Nazarov after his impressive season with Severstal last year, and the addition of Fedotenko brings experience and firepower. He’s one of the icons of Ukrainian hockey and was reportedly handed a contract to match his reputation, so Donbass will lean heavily on the Stanley-Cup winner.
Head Coach: Oleg Znarok (starting his fourth season in charge of Dynamo following the club’s merger with HC MVD, where he had coached for two seasons)
Last season: Gagarin Cup winners
Key arrivals: Leo Komarov (Toronto Maple Leafs), Martins Karsums (Dinamo Riga), Maxim Karpov (Traktor)
Prospects: Dynamo is gunning for a third consecutive Gagarin Cup triumph – but they struggled in the pre-season. The recent Mayor of Moscow Cup saw the Blue-and-Whites fail to win a single game, where Znarok admitted to heated words between players and directors following their 5-2 loss to Spartak. The club couldn't sign Traktor’s highly-coveted teen Valery Nichushkin, who instead signed an entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars, but has since grabbed another youngster from Chelyabinsk, Maxim Karpov.
Lev Prague (Czech Republic)
Head coach: Vaclav Sykora (took over from Josef Jandac in Oct. 2012)
Last season: Playoff first round (lost 0-4 to CSKA)
Key arrivals: Petri Vehanen (Lukko), Niko Kapanen (Ak Bars), Martin Thornberg (Torpedo)
Prospects: The Nikolai Zherdev saga, which saw the two-time World Champion sign with Lev before quitting just days before the start of the season, has dominated the build-up to the Czech team’s second KHL campaign. But that doesn’t overshadow key arrivals which likely ensures last season’s successful debut is more than just a one-off. Familiar faces in Finland’s Vehanen and Kapanen add strength to the roster while Thornberg is a prolific scorer. After bringing the KHL to the Czech Republic last season, Lev hopes for consolidation in the coming campaign.
Head coach: Tom Rowe (appointed 2012)
Last season: Playoff first round (lost 2-4 to Severstal)
Key arrivals: Ilya Gorokhov, Sergei Konkov (both Dynamo Moscow), Jonas Holos (Vaxjo)
Prospects: Lokomotiv will hope to get deeper into the playoffs this time around thanks to a larger and more experienced squad. On paper, Rowe can now call on six full lines – ensuring consistent competition for limited roster spots. There’s big-game experience in there as well, with the arrival of Gorokhov and Konkov from Dynamo’s dominating roster to bolster team depth. Holos, with a season of NHL action under his belt, is an addition to keep an eye on – but a lot will depend on whether coach Rowe can stay on fiery club president Yury Yakovlev’s good side and keep his job for the full campaign.
Medvescak Zagreb (Croatia)
Head coach: Mark French
Last season: did not compete
Prospects: It certainly won’t be easy for Medvescak to step into the KHL from the Austrian League. Fans will make games in the Croatian capital memorable, but the on-ice product is in for a steep learning curve. Not that the roster is totally devoid of top level talent – the likes of former Chicago Blackhawk Steve Montador will play a huge role in guiding the team through its debut season. They’re hoping to grab an unexpected playoff spot, but that might be ambitious for the Croatian club’s first campaign.
Head coach: Igor Petrov (replaced Andrei Nazarov in the summer)
Last season: Conference semifinal (lost 0-4 to SKA)
Key arrivals: Ivan Kasutin (SKA), Vladimir Antipov (Traktor)
Prospects: After an impressive 2012-13 season, Severstal has suffered the predictable fate of clubs which exceed expectations - the head coach moved on for a new challenge in Donbass, while key players have also been lured away by more lucrative teams. So it’s hard to see Severstal repeating last season’s heroics – merely making the playoffs would be a huge success for the modest Petrov in his first season in charge.
SKA St. Petersburg
Head Coach: Jukka Jalonen (replaced Milos Riha in Dec. 2012)
Last season: Conference final (lost 2-4 to Dynamo Moscow)
Key arrivals: Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky (both New Jersey Devils), Roman Cervenka (Calgary Flames)
Prospects: Everyone’s talking about Kovalchuk and hopes are high that his talents will finally lead SKA to the Gagarin Cup. Jalonen has had a busy summer with a total of 28 transfers in and out of SKA. They’ve looked strong in the pre-season, even without Kovalchuk, showing the strength of the reshaped roster. But the big question remains: despite being one of the more dominant teams in regular season play, can SKA finally overcome its playoff failures and get to a grand final?
Slovan Bratislava (Slovakia)
Head coach: Rostislav Cada (continuing from last season)
Last season: Playoff first round (lost 0-4 to Dynamo Moscow)
Key arrivals: Martin Skoula (Lev), Tomas Netik (Neftekhimik)
Prospects: Most of the experience that helped Slovan through its debut campaign – guys like Miroslav Satan and Lubo Visnovsky – are gone, but Cada’s roster is still relatively in tact. Skoula, an experienced defenseman who helped Avangard to the Gagarin Cup final two seasons ago, brings experience; Netik was excellent in Nizhnekamsk last year. They’re solid if unspectacular, so it’s hard to see much movement up or down this time around in Bratislava.
Head coach: Fyodor Kanareikin (replaced Andrei Sidorenko in Dec. 2012)
Last season: Failed to reach the playoffs
Key arrivals: Jeff Glass (Sibir), Deron Quint (Traktor), Rastislav Shpirko (Avtomobilist)
Prospects: With a second-place finish in the recent Mayor of Moscow Cup, Spartak has filled fans with optimism for the coming season. Their new arrivals have impressive resumes and the acquisition of a member of Traktor’s Gagarin Cup final roster is a vote of confidence toward the club’s prospects for the 2013-14 campaign. After some tough years, things are finally looking up for Spartak.
Vityaz Moscow Region
Head Coach: Yury Leonov (continuing for a second season)
Last season: failed to reach the playoffs
Key arrivals: Maxim Afinogenov, Maxim Rybin (both SKA)
Prospects: Vityaz have never played a playoff game and the small town (formerly Chekhov, now Podolsk) will be in tough again this season. Operating with one of the smallest budgets in the league, they’re at a huge disadvantage. And while it has a good record of developing young talent, its brightest stars have been snapped up by wealthier rivals. The arrivals of Afinogenov and Rybin bring experience, while the team has discarded its policy of importing North American enforcers with big penalty numbers. This season’s new defenseman, Logan Pyett, had just 145 PIM from 288 AHL games with Grand Rapids.