Hockey is back in Europe! The KHL has started its 2020-21 campaign with 23 clubs. Hoping for remaining European hockey leagues to follow soon.

Regular Testing on COVID-19

We can name two headlines for the 2020-21 season in the KHL. Firstly, it is the new salary cap mechanism, which we talked about in a previous story. And we also discussed its early results both here & here.

Another headline is the coronavirus pandemic. It has two effects on the KHL. Of course, attendance is limited. Every club and their regions define how many spectators can attend the games. It is usually around 20% to 30% of the capacity, but in some places it may be a bit higher quota. Very strict hygienic measures are applied at hockey venues.

Moreover, the league adopted a medical protocol about COVID-19. It creates so-called “clean zones” in the arena. Only players and other staff are allowed to walk around these zones. And the league has been testing all players, coaching staff, clubs’ employees and others once every five days during the season. According to the decision by the KHL Board of Directors, all testing costs are paid by the KHL. So the clubs have no additional expenses with it.

Another important pandemic effect is a trivial issue – travelling around countries. The KHL clubs will play in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia, and Finland this season while the Chinese KRS Beijing decided to spend all season in Moscow’s suburb, Mytishchi.

The KHL has negotiated with the government authorities of all countries to solve the travelling issue. Finally, they reached an agreement with the Finnish government, so Jokerit Helsinki can play at the Hartwall Arena.

René Fasel Attended the KHL Opening Cup

Due to uncertainty with the hockey season in North America, many young prospects have signed contracts with the KHL clubs for 2020-21. Russian defenceman Dmitry Samorukov is one of them and he scored the first goal of the 2020-21 KHL season.

The KHL has a tradition to hold the first game of a season between the Gagarin Cup holder and the regular-season winner. Because the 2020 Gagarin Cup was not awarded, the conference winners of the 2019-20 regular season met at the game for the Opening Cup. Ak Bars Kazan was the luckier of the two sides when they defeated CSKA Moscow with the OT winner by Dmitry Voronkov.

Although no surprise, IIHF President René Fasel attended that game. Earlier we talked about his possible future role in the KHL. He was accompanied at the game by the KHL President Alexey Morozov and FHR President Vladislav Tretyak.

Admiral With a Comeback?

So, Admiral Vladivostok is skipping a season but the club should be back soon. The Governor of Primorsky Krai Oleg Kozhemyako recently met with the KHL Board of Directors Chairman Gennady Timchenko. They agreed on Admiral Vladivostok coming back for 2021-22. Kozhemyako informed everyone about it via his Instagram.

Of course, Admiral needs to formally apply for the 2021-22 campaign. The application needs to be delivered to the league before March 1.

KHL President Alexey Morozov also talked to former KHL clubs – Lada Togliaty and Metallurg Novokuznetsk. He says, “right now, both clubs do not have even the financial resources to fulfil our recommendations on salary floor. So, we cannot even consider taking them back.”

Changes in Slovan, Early Talks With Morozov

And the good news is coming from Slovan Bratislava as well. The club changed ownership after 25 years this summer. Rudolf Hrubý is the new majority owner while his two partners have minority shares. Hrubý is the high-executive from IT giant enterprise ESET. Hrubý is a co-founder of the company and is one of the wealthiest Slovaks. He started considering the Slovan’s acquisition at least three years ago when the club played in the KHL.

His vision is simple and ambitious. He wants to create a top-notch club from Slovan, in all departments starting with corporate culture, professionalism, business, and prospect’s development.

His advisor is Maroš Krajči, the club’s former general manager who negotiated on behalf of Slovan with the KHL in 2011. He revealed the conditions for Slovan’s comeback to the KHL. First of all, the club needs to have the appropriate budget and having the farm team playing in the Slovak league. Just noting, Krajči helped the KHL with the 2018 KHL World Games in Vienna, Austria & Zürich, Switzerland.

“We want to make from Slovan the best club in Slovakia. If we succeed, we may consider joining a foreign league,” says Hrubý. He also underlines that the league’s change may happen anytime, in a year or five years.

Afterwards, the KHL President Morozov says, “we have already talked to the new Slovan owner. As I know Slovan considers one team for the KHL & one team for the Slovak league. We will talk about their comeback later.”

Slovan will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2021, so the club would like to participate at the oldest European hockey tournament at the 2021 Spengler Cup. Another mission is to host the NHL Global Series or a pre-season tournament with teams from the KHL, Czechia, Sweden or Finland.

A Fruitful Summer

Despite the coronavirus measures, the previous summer was very interesting from the KHL’s international perspective. The league’s President Alexey Morozov revealed the interest from South Korea and Hungary. Right now it is not clear what they have been discussing. But Morozov says the negotiations have just started. Of course, they are being hindered by the coronavirus pandemic. So, the results may not come anytime soon. 

Also, the KHL vice-president met with the Anyang Halla President last year to discuss their possible participation in the KHL. According to the club’s statement, it would be an honour for the Korean club to join the KHL. But right now, the club’s budget and venue do not fulfil the league’s top-flight conditions. Earlier, there were rumours about the second Chinese club considering the KHL as well as a Japanese hockey project, Grits.

On the European front, we heard about Hungary. As a first step, they are considering hosting the KHL World Games, likely at László Papp Arena in Budapest. It remains to be seen if they look at a longer time period with possible participation in the KHL.

Finally, we can not omit the interest of Israel. They too would like to host a KHL game on their soil. The Russian agency TASS reports that Avangard Omsk and CSKA Moscow should play at Pais Arena in Jerusalem on December 10th. But the league has not confirmed anything. “We consider various countries for a game, including Israel. But it is too early to confirm any details,” says the KHL in a statement.

Just noting, the interest from various countries does not mean that the KHL will expand there with a club. Some countries are interested in hosting a game, while others would like to see their team participating in the KHL.

Feature Image Credit: (Photo by Sergei Savostyanov\TASS via Getty Images)

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I support European club hockey and I want European hockey to be as strong as possible. European hockey fans have witnessed too many attempts to launch a cross-border competition. I have been following hockey all my life and I have had the same question. Why is there not a hockey version of the UEFA Champions League? Or a European version of the NHL? 2008 was a year when a version of both, was launched. As a fan, I started to follow both leagues although it was not cool to follow the KHL at the time. Furthermore, it was a bit complicated to get the first-hand information about the KHL, the media did not cover the league as deeply as I would want. Based on my experience with the KHL & other European club hockey competitions I would like to write about the most important on and off-ice, issues of European club hockey.