Now is time to look at the 2018-19 KHL regular season and analyse the KHL club rating. Finnish club Jokerit Helsinki overtook SKA St.Petersburg and is leading the league mid-season. 

A Summary of the Regular Season

The KHL regular season is coming to and end as the season closes February 22. The Western Conference is led by the Army clubs – CSKA Moscow and SKA St.Petersburg, followed by Jokerit Helsinki and Lokomotiv Yaroslavl. Five teams have been fighting for four playoff positions –  Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Moscow, Sochi, Vityaz and Dinamo Riga. On the other hand, Severstal Cherepovets, Slovan Bratislava and Dinamo Minsk would need a miracle on ice to make it to the Gagarin Cup playoff.

The Eastern Conference is surprisingly led by Avtomobilist Ekaterinburg. The club has been an average club at best. They changed their leadership in 2016 when Andrey Kozicyn became the President. Since he took over Avtomobilist has become one of the top clubs. Avangard Omsk, Ak Bars Kazan and Metallurg Magnitogorsk find themselves in familiar territory as they occupy the leading positions in the East.

Another three clubs, Barys Astana, Salavat Yulaev Ufa and Torpedo N.Novgorod should make the playoffs. Fans of the club from Bashkortostan’s capital had higher expectations before the season’s start. No surprise, because Salavat Yulaev has always been a top team in the league. We see a tough fight between Kunlun Red Star, Traktor Chelyabinsk, Sibir Novosibirsk and Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk for the last playoff spot. Amur Khabarovsk has a tiny hope during the most exciting part of a season. Admiral Vladivostok will not make the playoffs, this year as the club is living a difficult time.

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Jokerit Leading the KHL Club Rating

General managers of the KHL clubs came to Moscow on December 12 to discuss the further development of the league. The meeting has been traditional since Chernyshenko became the league’s President. The meeting informs clubs about the league’s plans. In addition, clubs can propose their visions to the league. During this last meeting, the KHL informed the clubs regarding the mid-season version of the KHL club rating. As we know, the rating is an advisory tool for the KHL Board of Directors to estimate clubs value. Finnish side Jokerit Helsinki is leading the rating mid-season. Admiral Vladivostok is the worst club according to the rating, followed by Severstal and Amur. The final version of the rating will be announced after the season’s end.

The KHL has been optimizing the list of participating clubs. The league’s aim is to have 24 teams. As of now, the league has 25 clubs. The KHL President proposed to the KHL Board of Directors to refuse to accept an application of Lada Togliatti, Yugra Khanty Mansiysk and Severstal for the 2018-19 season. The Board kept Severstal in the league for one more season. The other two play in the VHL. According to reports, Severstal is the most likely candidate for moving to the VHL next season. A final decision will be made by the KHL Board of Directors at the end of the season.

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Admiral, Amur and the Future

Admiral is in a dangerous situation as well. The club’s front office is in big trouble right now. Two executives have been suspended indefinitely by the league due to the club’s debt to the players for the previous season. Both suspended executives have already left the club. Zairbek Yusupov is the new club President. He held the same position in Admiral’s leadership from December 2017 to April 2018. The KHL needs a club in Vladivostok in the long-term. An ideal scenario would be to have from four to six teams in the Far East and Asia (China, S.Korea, Japan). The league has three clubs there right now (Amur, Admiral, the KRS). Importance of Vladivostok has increased since the seat of the Far Eastern Federal District of the Russian Federation was moved from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok in December 2018.

As for Amur, there are rumours the club should be more financially stable next season. Amur will not follow Avtomobilist’s example and become a top team in the East overnight. On the other hand, Amur can be a solid mid-table team in the future.

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Slovan’s Boycott

The KHL suspended two of Slovan’s executives indefinitely as a result of debts for last season. According to rumours, the suspended Slovan’s owner has been trying to sell the club. It is not certain if he wants to stay as a co-owner. Rumours have circulated in the media for over a year but there is nothing new. This potential deal is the only way for Slovan to stay in the league. Slovan needs a financially stronger owner as Slovakia is too small to support the team alone. It remains to be seen if the negotiations come to fruition. The clock is ticking, especially if the league expands to a more lucrative destination in Europe or Asia.

Slovan’s fan club has been boycotting games this season. It has resulted in the lowest attendance since Slovan joined the KHL. Slovan has the potential to regularly sell-out the arena. The fanbase is very loyal to the club and is big enough. They presented on social media their reasons for the boycott. The core issue is a bad decision made by the ownership and poor players selection by the sports director.

Slovan hired Patrik Ziman in July 2017. As a general manager, he wanted to financially stabilise the club and change the player’s selection process. He had a conflict with Oldřich Štefl, the sports director, who has been responsible for player’s selection. Ziman wanted to save money on players salaries, in other words, he did not want to overpay the players, especially Slovaks. His vision was not supported by Štefl and Ziman suggested to the owner to fire the sports director. The owner did not accept the proposal and as the aftermath, Ziman left the club on his own request in May 2018. The fan club has been boycotting the club since his departure.

Fan Club Ultimatum

The fan club revealed nine conditions for the club to end the boycott. They are as follows, Oldřich Štefl needs to leave his position in the club’s structure. Slovan needs to pay all debts to former players back, including debts for renting of the arena. The fan club requests the club to inform them regularly about Slovan’s future plans, including a potential change of ownership or acquiring a new sponsor. Last but not least, the club should publicly apologize to the fans and arrange a meeting with them to discuss the further development of the club face to face. At least five conditions need to be fulfilled by the club, Štefl´s resignation is an ultimate condition. Otherwise, the boycott continues indefinitely. 

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New Arenas on the Horizon

The KHL’s vision is to have clubs in the bigger markets with high-quality arenas and financial stability. We have witnessed a construction boom in the KHL. We can see that new hockey arenas are under construction or planned in the near future. CSKA moved from the legendary CSKA Sports Ice Complex at Leningradskiy Prospect to the modern CSKA Arena (aka VTB Ledovy Dvorets) before 2018-19. The famous club plans to build their own arena with 20,000 seats.

Dynamo Moscow moved to the brand new VTB Arena at Petrovsky Park in early days of January 2019. The arena is unique due to merging a football stadium and a hockey arena into one complex. Spartak Moscow is likely to move to their home in Sokolniky. The 62-year-old Sokolniky arena will be demolished and a new arena for 12,500 seats will be built on the same place. Spartak plays at the CSKA Arena now, the clubs will move to the Megasport Arena next year. SKA St.Petersburg is working on a new arena with a capacity of over 22,000 seats in place of the legendary SKK Peterburgsky. The 2023 IIHF World Championship will take place at the new arena.

Construction Ahead

Construction works on a new arena for Avtomobilist and Sibir should start in 2019. Avangard Omsk plays in the city of Balashika currently due to the inability of the Omsk Arena. The club will stay in Balashika for one more season and perhaps even longer. The club’s leadership met with the IIHF President René Fasel in December. The topic was the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be hosted by Novosibirsk. The idea is to share the event with Omsk.

Construction works on a new arena for Avtomobilist and Sibir should start in 2019. Avangard Omsk plays in the city of Balashika currently due to the inability of the Omsk Arena. The club will stay in Balashika for one more season and perhaps even longer. The club’s leadership met with the IIHF President René Fasel in December. The topic was the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be hosted by Novosibirsk. The idea is to share the event with Omsk.

As confirmed by the regional government, the Arena Omsk will be constructed by 2021. They consider increasing the capacity of the arena (currently 10,318 seats). The reconstruction will be funded by the Gazprom and the Gazprom Neft. Russian media revealed that Gazprom Neft has bought 11.76% of the KHL shares recently. The company is Avangard’s owner. Torpedo should get a new arena as well. Chinese KRS should solve their arena issue too.

All arenas are projected for between 10 and 12,000 seats, except Avtomobilist (15,000) and SKA. Let us have a look at current and projected arenas. A list of clubs with arenas under 10,000 seats would be as follows Severstal, Vityaz and Lokomotiv in the West. The Eastern Conference is more complicated in this department because almost all arenas were built during the 2000s. Their capacity was projected to be under 10,000 seats. Neftekhimik and Admiral have the smallest capacity with around 5,500 seats each. There are rumours Neftekhimik will leave the KHL sooner rather than later. To sum it up, the KHL will have bigger and more modern arenas soon.

Look to the Youth

Moreover, the Russian Hockey Federation plans to construct at least 50 training skating rinks around the country annually over the next eight years. The Russian Hockey Federation wants to develop youth hockey in the country. The biggest reform of the Russian youth hockey is underway. It is very similar to a reform of a youth developing system in Sweden around 2000.

A German Expansion

“If looking at the KHL’s promotion at new markets, I would welcome one foreign club to join the KHL next season,” said Dmitry Chernyshenko. He added that the negotiations are ongoing and a final decision will be made by the KHL Board of Directors. He even underlined, “there were talks with one famous Hamburg club two years ago when the club’s owner was making a decision to close the club. The talks have not been renewed since then.” It is clear ‘the famous club is Hamburg Freezers.

The club played in the DEL and was owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). The parent company had two DEL clubs at the time. The other was Eisbären Berlin. The AEG decided to fund only the Berlin side. Who knows how the negotiations would have ended up if there was another political environment in the world at the time? Definitely, AEG would be a major player on the KHL map. The company would be a sole player operating in both the NHL and the KHL.

The KHL has interest in new markets and Germany is a very lucrative market for the league. So said Franz Reindl, the President of the German Hockey Federation. This confirms interest in the KHL World Games to be held in Germany.

I am not in a position to say if the KHL expands to Germany. There are only a few men in the world who have this kind of information. The German expansion would be a clever business decision.

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An Expansion In 2020?

“I plan to expand the KHL with one team from Europe and one Asian club after next season. We have been in talks with four clubs from four different countries. We need to know for sure the new teams will not change their opinion over a year, that they are financially stable and bring revenues to the league,” revealed Dmitry Chernyshenko to Forbes

It will be a few months until we know if the KHL expands with a new team or more for the 2019-20 season or perhaps, none at all. As of now, expansion is likely to happen as early as 2020, even though Chernyshenko would like to welcome a new team in summer 2019. This all depends on negotiations and how they pan out. 

The clock is ticking.

Feature Image Credit: Photo by Sergey Mihailicenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Featured Image Credit :or even more sides for the 2019-20 season or perhaps none. As of now, expansion is likely to happen as early as 2020, even though Chernyshenko would like to welcome a new team in summer 2019. It all depends on how the negotiations go, but the clock is ticking.     

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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.