Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Russian News Break

Meet Tamara Urushadze. Miss Urushadze is not a correspondent for HBIC in any way, but she is a reporter from the former Russian country of Georgia. She also has nothing to do with hockey, but this is one tough reporter. You see, she was shot while filing a live news report in 2008. That's right: shot while on camera live. While the bullet grazed her arm, opening a wound, she continued to report on the tensions between Russia and Georgia. For as much as we talk about hockey players being tough, that's one reporter who redefines professionalism and toughness. Wow.

I am happy to report that the 34 year-old is doing well today after her close encounter with a bullet, and is still reporting for the Georgia's nationally-funded television station. That's the background on why I chose Miss Urushadze for the image up top. So let's segue from a tough Georgian reporter to the KHL where things are tough for some teams.

The KHL has voted to include three new teams for the 2010-11 season. Joining the KHL will be HC Yugra from Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia; HC Budivelnyk located in Kiev, Ukraine; and HC Lev based in Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic. The addition of the three teams brings some stability back to the KHL after it was revealed that Lada Togliatti would be excluded from the KHL next season, and Moscow Dynamo would cease operations.

HC Yugra plays along the Irtysh River in Arena Ugra in Khanty-Mansiysk. The city is approximately 750 kilometers northwest of Kazan in central Russia, and 1900 kilometers from Moscow. The city is situated in western Siberia, and has temperature fluctuations much like that of the Canadian prairies. HC Yugra looks fairly good in their uniforms, and should be a good addition to the KHL's Kharlamov Division.

HC Budivelnyk is based in Kiev, Ukraine, and is the vision of the Dnipropetrovsk-based PrivatBank who founded the Budivelnyk basketball club. HC Budivelnyk may not have many recognizable stars on the ice, but former NHL forward Dmitri Khristich will be behind the bench as an assistant coach for this upcoming season. HC Budivelnyk looks a little like Team Sweden in yellow-and-blue, but they do have an impressive logo. Honestly, how cool is that logo? I'm hoping you said, "Very". HC Budivelnyk will replaced Moscow Dynamo in the Tarasov Division in the upcoming season.

HC Lev is based in Hradec Kralove in the northwest Czech Republic. The city was founded in 1225, making it one of the oldest settlements in the Czech region. HC Lev was founded in 1926, and has undergone several name changes over its history. The club has made it past the first portion of the expansion process, and it is assumed that they will play in the KHL next season. They have some pretty unique uniforms, so there might be some changes needed before they begin play in the fall in terms of the advertising.

There were awards handed out in the KHL as well. Much like the NHL Awards, the KHL Awards highlight the outstanding players and teams from the past season. Your winners in the 2009-10 KHL season were as follows:

  • Vsevold Bobrov Trophy - Salavat Yulayev Ufa. This trophy is awarded to the best team in the KHL regular season, similar to the President's Trophy in the NHL.
  • Top scorer - Sergei Mozyakin of Atlant Mytishchi. Mozyakin wins this honour for the second season in a row. Mozyakin recorded 27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points.
  • Top goal-scorer - Marcel Hossa of Dinamo Riga. The former NHLer recorded 35 goals this season as the KHL's top sniper.
  • "Most Useful Player" - Patrick Thoresen of Salavat Yulayev Ufa. His +45 rating was tops in the KHL, making him the "most useful player". No, I didn't name that honour.
  • Cherepanov Memorial Award - Anatoly Nikontsev of Avtomobilist Uralets. The rookie forward was the best freshman this season, winning the award named after the late Russian sniper.
  • Top goaltender - Petri Vehanen of Ak Bars Kazan. Vehanen's trophy case gets a little more crowded after he helped Kazan win the Gagarin Cup this season.
  • Regular season MVP - Alexander Radulov of Salavat Yulayev Ufa. Radulov was awarded the prestigious "Golden Hockey Stick" for being named as the MVP.
  • Playoff MVP - Ilya Nikulin of Ak Bars Kazan. Nikulin seemed to be on every scoresheet in the playoffs, and helped Kazan to their second consecutive Gagarin Cup.
The KHL held their second amateur draft to help stock the KHL teams with some new talent. Russian forward Dmitry Yashkin was selected by HC Sibir as the first overall pick. The youngster played last season with Slavia in the Czech Republic, but will be coming back to Russia to continue his professional career.

The KHL Draft went seven rounds, resulting in 188 players from 13 countries being selected. Those countries included Russia, Belarus, Latvia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Canada (Tyler Toffoli, #169, Tractor Chelyabinsk) and the USA (Jerry D’Amigo, #155, Lokomotiv; Jack Campbell, #170, Dinamo Minsk; Jarred Tinordi, #184, Metallurg Magnitogorsk).

And then there's that $3 million investment in over-the-hill goaltending.

Spartak Moscow decided to "upgrade" its goaltending by bringing in 45 year-old Dominik Hasek for one-year at $3 million. Hasek will certainly be a draw for the fans, but it remains to be seen if he can play a full season without blowing out a groin in one of the premier leagues on the planet.

As the list of aging, past-their-prime former NHLers grows in the KHL, the league gains some serious credibility in terms of being a twilight-of-your-career league. It's kind of like when you see the fifty year-olds at the local rink in the men's elite division: they probably had the legs a decade ago, but now they just look old when playing against men half their ages.

I wish Hasek nothing but the best, and I hope that he and Spartak have a great season in 2010-11, but something tells me that Spartak will see only a marginal improvement over this past season.

Oh, and that money stuff? Apparently, SKA St. Petersburg offered up $42 million over three years to free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, but the Russian sniper wants to explore his NHL possibilities first. Honestly, $14 million tax-free per season is a lot of money to turn down. I respect Kovalchuk for wanting to stay in the NHL, but it's hard to imagine any NHL team offering anything close to that kind of dough.

And St. Petersburg wasn't done there. They have also offered a contract to free agent Alexander Frolov. Frolov's asking price is apparently higher than what Los Angeles Kings' GM Dean Lombardi is willing to spend on the forward, and this may prompt Frolov to look elsewhere for employment next season.

If St. Petersburg is throwing around double-digit dollar figures in the millions for players, one of either Kovalchuk or Frolov will end up there next season. That kind of money can set a player and his family up for life.

So there's your KHL update from the past month. New teams, awards, lots of money on contracts, and some player movement makes for an entertaining off-season, and the KHL is bringing all of that to the table. More updates will follow as they happen, and I want to thank
Tamara Urushadze for showing everyone what true courage is.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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