Category: KHL (page 1 of 5)

The Agency Partnership Wins Ice Hockey League KHL

By Maja Pawinska Sims – The Holmes Report

Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), the international ice hockey league, has appointed The Agency Partnership as its first retained international PR agency to support its expansion into new markets.

KHL was created in 2008 to develop ice hockey across Europe and Asia. The 11th KHL Championship, which began in September, is contested by 25 teams from Russia, Belarus, China, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Slovakia. Last month the first regular season game was held in Zurich, and the league plans to move further into Western Europe, including the UK.

The Agency Partnership was founded in February this year by former MSL client director and Ogilvy head of media and entertainment Blair Metcalfe, with a core team in London supported by a network of independent partner agencies and more than 600 consultants around the world.

The agency’s brief for Kontinental Hockey League is to carry out media and influencer engagement and global monitoring, to increase awareness of the sport and attendance at games in key European and Asian markets.

Metcalfe, the agency’s CEO and creative lead, told the Holmes Report: “KHL is Europe and Asia’s answer to the NHL in America: it’s about top-flight ice hockey from multiple countries, and it’s at a pivotal point in its expansion programe. We’ll be helping with corporate promotion of the league, as well as global monitoring and analysis of conversation around the sport, especially from influences, so we can turn those insights into creative campaigns encouraging consumers to go to matches.”

KHL marketing and communications VP Sergey Dobrokhvalov said: “Working with The Agency Partnership will provide us with the expert support we need to develop and execute a communications strategy for our exciting growth plans, helping attract audiences to enjoy some of the best ice hockey you can find anywhere in the world.”

Other recent wins for The Agency Partnership include electric bicycle company Volt, and Vinci UK Developments, which appointed the team on a stakeholder relations and integrated consumer, public affairs and corporate communications brief for developments across the UK.

Chinese ice hockey star Zachary Yuen feels weight of a nation as he forges his path in Russia’s KHL

By Patrick Blennerhassett – South China Morning Post

China-born youngster talks about adapting to life playing hockey in Russia and his hopes for representing his motherland at the 2022 Olympics

Zachary Yuen did not get to choose his heritage, but as one of ice hockey’s budding Chinese prospects the National Hockey League (NHL) is hoping will help grow the game in the Far East, he has embraced the added attention and duty to the motherland.

Yuen, 25, whose father is from Hong Kong and mother is from the Guangdong Province, was born in Vancouver (which is 43 per cent ethnically Chinese) and now plays for the Beijing-based Kunlun Red Stars, the only Chinese team in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Yuen, who was drafted by the Winnipeg Jets in 2011, chose the KHL over the typical American Hockey League route (which houses the NHL’s feeder teams) to help grow the game in China.

This, of course, has placed a particularly bright spot on Yuen as the NHL tries desperately to bring forth a Chinese superstar to reach a new audience overseas.

Yuen has featured in multiple media outlets since heading overseas including GQ China twice, the Financial Times and recently walked the catwalk at a fashion show in Shenzhen.

“I definitely feel like there is a lot more responsibility and pressure being a Chinese player because I feel I have a responsibility to be a good role model for all the kids in China who have interest in hockey,” he said.

The NHL is hoping all the games it has hosted in China and the cash it spent flying in marquee draws like Wayne Gretzky and Phil Esposito will be able to piggyback off the country’s commitment to winter sports ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

State broadcaster CCTV has also televised a number of NHL regular season games and the play-offs hoping to entice more Chinese people to either play or take interest in the game.

China has literally built hundreds of ice rinks across the country and the International Ice Hockey Federation reports the game has grown from about 1,000 local players in 2017 to 12,000 today.

Yuen, who is in his third year in the KHL and is a much-coveted left-handed defenceman, is a pitch-perfect spokesperson given he is trilingual. He said even though he was born and raised in Vancouver, he was raised in a fairly traditional Chinese family.

“For me being able to also speak Mandarin and Cantonese, I’m able to really keep in touch and communicate with all the Chinese fans, and I feel like it’s a very important part to growing the sport in China.”

Yuen added his first season (2016-17) in the KHL was tough, noting it was like having “continuous jetlag”, but now he feels much more at home and knows all the Russian cities. Right now the Red Stars have five Canada-born players and eight China-born players on their roster. The team is currently 10th in the East Division of the KHL with five wins and nine losses in 14 games. Yuen has only played six games this season due to injury.

One of the points of upcoming contention between the NHL and China ahead of 2022 will be whether the league sends its players. The NHL bucked the trend in 2018 by announcing its players would stay put which boiled down to a money issue with the International Olympic Committee.

Yuen said it is “still too early to say” whether the NHL will allow its players to go to Beijing in 2022. If Yuen is still playing in the KHL it will be a no-brainer as he will definitely suit up, but if he is playing for an NHL team, the decision will be out of his hands.

“For me, I would love to be a part of Team China for the Olympics. I want to represent my mother country, and it’s definitely something I look forward to. So with regards to NHL participation in the Olympics I guess only time will tell.”

New Kazakhstan ice hockey coach given task of winning IIHF World Championship tournament

Belarus’ Andrei Skabelka has been appointed as the new coach of Kazakhstan’s ice hockey team, it has been announced.

The 47-year-old will combine his role with being head coach of Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) club Barys Astana. 

The head coach of Barys traditionally is also in charge of the national team in Kazakhstan as the team serves as the main club for the national team roster.

Skebelka replaces another Belarussian, Eduard Zankovets, and will be expected to lead a successful challenge when Kazakhstan hosts the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Astana next year.

“Of course the national team of Kazakhstan will have to return to the elite since we will host the World Championship of our division at home,” Askar Mamin, the President of the Kazakhstan Ice Hockey Federation, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti. 

“Therefore, Skabelka’s task, of course, will be to win this tournament.”

It will be the first time Kazakhstan has hosted an IIHF World Championship event.

“Holding the World Championship [Division I Group A] in Astana will be a stimulus to increase the popularity of hockey in Kazakhstan,” Mamin said.

As a player, Skabelka represented Belarus in 12 World Championship tournaments and two Winter Olympic Games at Lillehammer 1994 and Turin 2006.

He also coached Belarus in two World Championships.

Belarus will be among the teams taking part in next year’s IIHF World Championships, due to take place between April 29 and May, along with Hungary, Lithuania, Slovenia and South Korea.

The top two teams will be promoted to the 2020 IIHF World Championship in Switzerland.

Kazakhstan have not played in the elite division of world ice hockey since being relegated in 2014.

Skabelka has also worked as a coach in the KHL for Torpedo Nizhni Novgorod, Sibir Novosibirsk and Avangard Omsk.

Ak Bars Kazan upsets CSKA Moscow to win KHL’s Gagarin Cup

By Associated Press

Russia’s Ak Bars Kazan won the Kontinental Hockey League’s Gagarin Cup for the third time in its history on Sunday with a surprise 4-1 series win over CSKA Moscow.

Ak Bars won Game 5 1-0, with ex-Edmonton Oilers wing Rob Klinkhammer scoring the winning goal on the power play early in the third period. Emil Garipov stopped 33 shots for the first shutout of the finals.

It was the first Gagarin Cup since 2010 for Ak Bars, which won the title in the KHL’s first two seasons but hadn’t won since.

Ak Bars was considered the underdog since CSKA’s roster included eight of the Russian players who won Olympic gold in February, with Ak Bars having none.

KHL postpones playoffs to let Olympic gold medalists party more

By Kyle Cantlon –

Team ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia’ has transformed into team ‘Olympic Boozehounds From Russia’ awfully quickly, and the bender isn’t over yet.

Less than a week out of the PyeongChang Games where a group of Russians captured men’s hockey gold, playoffs in the country’s top league are set to begin. Two of the clubs comprising the majority of Team OAR in South Korea — CKSA Moscow and SKA Saint Petersburg — are slotted to face off against Sparktak and Severstal, respectively, in the opening round, but the KHL is reportedly postponing the start of both series.

For a very legitimate reason – if you ask me.

Powerhouse No. 1 overall seed SKA Saint Petersburg, which went 47-5-4 during the KHL’s regular season, featured 15 players on Russia’s Olympic team, including former NHL All-Stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, and gold-medal game hero Nikita Gusev.

Second ranked CSKA Moscow boasted eight players on OAR’s gold-winning squad, including Nikita Nesterov, Alexey Marchenko, Mikhail Grigorenko, and Kirill Kaprizov — who potted the OT winner against Germany in the final game.

Both behemoths are on a collision course to the KHL finals, so why not delay the inevitable in the name of a good hangover.

KHL Playoff matches ups

First Israeli in KHL

By Juraj Hudak –

Eliezer Sherbatov became the first ice hockey player from Israel, who played and scored in KHL. It’s a dream come true, but his great story wasn’t always about hockey.

“It all begins in Israel when my father wanted me to be a hockey player. I don’t know why he wanted that because back in Israel there was almost no ice hockey at all. So we moved to Canada,” said the son of two Russian-Jewish parents.

“I don’t know how my father ends up saying the guy on immigration service that he wanted me to be another Montreal Canadian number 10 Guy Lafleur. But after this, they allowed us to live there,” said Eliezer Sherbatov.

Before Sherbatov’s family moved to Israel they lived in Moscow. The capital city of Russia was dangerous in that days so they tried to start a new life. Despite that leaving home didn’t come easy.

“My father left absolutely everything in Russia. He comes from Dagestan and he met my mom in Moscow, where my two older brothers were born. In the ‘80s, the mafia had its peak over there and it was a very tough life back there. They decided to move to Israel because we are Jewish so they accepted us. But in Israel, it wasn’t also the greatest life back in that days. It was still war. We chose to move to Canada,” continued Eliezer Sherbatov.

He can remember the second move for Sherbatov’s family. He was only two years old, but memories of their start come back easily when he speaks about it.

“When we came over to Canada we were poor. I was sleeping in a big box of Marlboro cigarettes. My father finished engineering in Moscow, but in Canada, he had to work in a pizzeria so we had food on the table every day. He is a very smart man and a great businessman with what he did for the family and how he´s brought us up,” explained Sherbatov.

“Now the name Sherbatov is a known brand around the world only because of my father. This is mainly because of him and his family manners, values and the strength of a man.”

When Sherbatov was five he started to play hockey. “And it was horrible,” said the 26-year old forward with a smile. “I started to skate with the whole team, but I recognized I am the worst hockey player of all kids. When my father saw me, he couldn’t believe why he had spent so much money on me and he told my mother to teach me skating,” continued Sherbatov.

“It was a smart thing because she was champion in figure skating while she lived in Russia. In one year I was the best skater in Lasalle.”

Living in Canada was for little Sherbatov mostly about hockey, but not for his parents. They had to pay for the house, school for three kids and much more. His father’s job wasn’t enough and his wife had to start helping family too. His father told her how to make a business while she was giving practice to her son and bring more cash to family in the new country.

“In order to get more money, during that time she started to give skating lessons to people from the Russian community for free just to make a name. Later on she became one of the best power-skating coaches in Canada. Now many players even from the NHL are coming to improve their skating at my mom’s school during the summer.”

After Sherbatov learned how to skate he had another problem. His height wasn’t enough for a hockey player so he had to prove his skills a lot of better than others. Then came another barrier.

“Every single year I was the smallest player. I always had to prove that I was better. There was another thing that I was an Israeli kid and that was a reason for a couple of troubles and things like that. I always had to be the best. If I wouldn’t be the best coaches were asking, why we have him here if we have all the other guys from Montreal to play. That´s why I was every day in the gym with my brother, who is an MMA fighter, and on ice with my mom to try to be better in all things. It’s not the time to go out and have a party like many guys do. It’s dedication from me,” said Sherbatov, who measures 174 cm (5’9”).

“It was hard during my career. I didn’t know where I belong. Am I a Canadian? They don’t accept me, they kept saying he is Israeli kid. In Russia, I wanted to be a Russian, but again they didn’t accept me. I speak Russian and English, but I never was truly accepted, because in France, Kazakhstan, the NHL or the KHL everybody wants to improve themselves. So they never accepted me. And I understood that,” continued Sherbatov.

“I really had to have thick skin and thick mind not to get them through inside me and my head. Yes, I had to fight a lot, but I am glad for everything that happened and really happy that nothing came easily to me. This made me a man and brought me up. Sacrifice, that’s the key. Are you ready to fail, cry and bleed? Then you are ready to succeed.”

After his words, probably many players would finish with hockey for good. But it’s not how Sherbatov works as he tried to get on the KHL level. Even he had to fight with another hard thing.

“One of my biggest thing that people don’t know it’s a secret I kept. Only guys from my team know it and I never spoke about this before. I didn’t play hockey for three years because I had a big injury. Back in 2005 I fell and had a bad injury on my left leg. I had an articulation problem and the nerve was damaged and compressed,” said Sherbatov and continued.

His next three years were very difficult. He spent more time in a hospital than on the ice. Mostly everything was more about starting to walk properly again than continuing with ice hockey.

“And that was so frustrating for me. I had to have one operation then I was trying to get back to hockey, but it didn’t work and the problem came back. The nerve was damaged and the muscle wasn’t working, so I had to have another operation. Then another operation… So I had three surgeries in two years. The doctor told me, I would never play hockey again because I couldn’t even walk normally. My nerve was damaged completely. Now I have no feelings under my knee. I can’t move my foot, it’s called death foot. Funny part of that is, the people considered me the fastest skater out there,” said Sherbatov.

Many people would give up, but not Eliezer Sherbatov. His strength is so big, but where does it come from?

“What my parents went through as emigrants and going through two emigrations with no money and not eating so my two brothers could, my mom that was working for free just to build her name and my father worked in a pizzeria to give us the food. This is where I am getting my strength from. It’s my parents’ dedication and will to make something special for the Sherbatovs. And I am going their footsteps right now. We never give up. Because we believe that everything we do we don’t do it just to do it. If you do something, you have to be the best at it. There is no reason to live if you don’t do it as best as you can.”

His devotion to hockey brings him closer to his dreams. He always wanted to play in Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Now he has played 29 games, where he scored once and had three assists for Slovan Bratislava.

“There is no better place to start your KHL career than in Slovan Bratislava. The people, how nice they are. They welcomed me with open arms, the fans are just amazing. In the start of the season, when the other coach was here, I didn’t feel I gave it enough. My adaptation went straight down, but it’s a big step for me to come here from Kazakhstan and huger step from Israel.”

But hockey in his home country isn’t still popular enough. He wants to be that player who brings fame to ice hockey in Israel.

“But it’s growing. I appreciate every single hockey player in Israel. They come right from the army duty and play in World Championships and after that, they go back to the front to watch out for their country. They have to travel every day two hours for practice. Who would do that? They love the hockey and I try to do my best to put Israel on the hockey map. I always said I was the chosen one. I need to by the first Israeli, this was my duty and I am happy that I did it.”

Mike Keenan out as coach/GM of KHL’s Kunlun Red Star

By Sean Leahy – NBC Sports

Days after losing his role as general manager, Mike Keenan has now been relieved of his coaching responsibilities by Kunlun Red Star of the KHL. Following nine straight defeats, which places them near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 68-year-old will remain as an executive member on the team’s International Advisory Board.

Former NHLer Bobby Carpenter will take reins behind the bench on an interim basis with fellow ex-players Cliff Ronning and Igor Kravchuk staying on as assistants.

“Mike Keenan has done a great job for several months,” said Kunlun president Raitis Pilsetnieks via SovSport (translated). “He formed a completely new KHL team, and also took an active part in building the entire club structure, which is part of a large-scale project for the development of Chinese hockey in the run-up to the Winter Olympics in 2022.

“Since March, he worked almost without days off, and we were often amazed at his amazing endurance and efficiency. But, unfortunately, everything has a limit, and the work, coupled with a huge number of flights, is beyond his strength. Therefore, it was decided to return to the original form of cooperation. I have no doubt that as a member of the International Coordination Council Mike Keenan will bring a lot of benefits to the club and the Chinese hockey in general.”

Kunlun responded well to the news by snapping their nine-game losing streak with a 4-3 overtime win against Amur on Sunday.

Keenan, who was the first coach to win championships in the KHL and NHL, joined Kunlun in March 17 months after he was canned by Metallurg Magnitogorsk, with whom he led to a Gagarin Cup title in 2014.

So will we hear Keenan’s pop up whenever the first NHL head coach gets fired this season? He’s been out of the NHL game since 2009, but that never stopped general managers from bringing in a retread. Hey, how about a Philadelphia reunion? OK, that’s probably a pipe dream. But given Keenan’s recent coaching history, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him resurface behind a bench elsewhere in Europe.

SKA St. Petersburg It’s a record!

Sergei Shirokov: "It's difficult to set records"

By KHL. ru

SKA set a new KHL record for consecutive victories, picking up its 19th win in a row since the start of the season to move past Avangard’s mark. But Sibir made it tough for the Army Men, threatening to crash the party with a resilient display and a third-period fightback.

SKA’s success this season has been built on rollicking offense; this week alone the team blasted 12 goals in road games at Lokomotiv and Salavat Yulaev. Nikita Gusev and Ilya Kovalchuk were in red hot form, and the crowd settled down to await the latest firework display. And waited. And waited. The first intermission arrived, and the game was goalless. And, by recent standards, bereft of goal action. SKA was limited to nine shots at Alexei Krasikov and when the goalie was beaten, a video review reprieved him.

After the break, finally, SKA found its scoring form. The third power play of the night ended with Gusev setting up Sergei Plotnikov to break the deadlock. Two minutes later, Dinar Khafizullin made it 2-0. This was more like it, but the home team’s progress was disrupted by penalty trouble and Sibir was still in the game – just – after 40 minutes.

Jonas Enlund pulled a goal back in the 49th minute, and suddenly a routine engagement was starting to look problematic. The winner came from an unlikely source: Evgeny Ketov is a player often overlooked on SKA’s stella offense, but he came up with the all-important goal when he surprised Krasikov with an early shot from the top of the circle. Sibir tried to battle back, and Simon Onerud got his first goal for the club after moving from Sochi, but SKA closed out the game and established that record.

Alisauskas moving up

By Henrik Manninen –

Following in the footsteps of his hometown hero, the KHL becomes the next step in the ascending career of Lithuanian blueliner Nerijus Alisauskas.

When Latvian KHL club Dinamo Riga got the new 2017/18 KHL season underway, it also coincided with the league’s sole Lithuanian representative making his debut at the big stage.

Following a successful off-season try-out, 26-year-old Alisauskas became a surprise late addition to the Dinamo Riga roster. A move which saw him become only the second Lithuanian to grace the KHL after Darius Kasparaitis, who played 26 regular season games for SKA St. Petersburg in 2008/09.

”I am happy to get the chance to play in the KHL and for me it doesn’t matter whether I am first or second. Kasparaitis was also my hero when growing up and I always wanted to achieve the same goals as him,” said Alisauskas, who got his first KHL point on board in his third game of the season with an assist in a 5-3 road win at Barys Astana, Dinamo Riga’s first victory of the season.

When Alisauskas picked up the game at the age of eight back home in the Central Lithuanian small town of Elektrenai, another one of its natives, Kasparaitis had long since left the nest and was at the peak of his powers across the Atlantic suiting up for Pittsburgh Penguins. Dainius Zubrus, the other Lithuanian with an NHL career, also hails from the town.

But while Kasparaitis and Zubrus had honed their skills during the Soviet Union times, Alisauskas was born in another era in the summer of 1991. Brought up in a once again independent Lithuania he was to have a more meandering road towards to the top.

After getting his baptism of fire at senior level in the Belarusian league with Latvian team Liepajas Metalurgs, Alisauskas found himself patrolling the blueline in Germany’s third tier for EV Fussen in 2013/14. Three years of solid displays in Kazakhstan’s top league ensued, before ahead of this season, Dinamo Riga’s head coach Sandis Ozolins came calling to offer Alisauskas an opportunity to shine at the next level.

A fine skater and equipped with a lethal one-timer, Alisauskas possesses qualities he hopes can be fully utilized in his new surroundings as Dinamo Riga aims to avenge for last year’s lacklustre overall display which saw them finish bottom of the pile in the Western Conference.

“I hope we will make the play-offs this season and on a personal level I hope I can grow as a player with as much ice time as possible,” said Alisauskas on a hectic season ahead where a lot will be at stake for both club and country.

In average he got 18:30 of ice time during seven KHL games. Only Canadian Karl Stollery and Latvian Guntis Galvins were on the ice more often among Dinamo Riga defencemen.

With Lithuania hosting the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I Group B in Kaunas at the end of April next year, big things are in the pipeline for the southern-most Baltic country. Following four consecutive bronze medals at Division IB level under the guidance of head coach Bernd Haake, home advantage is hoped to give the team an extra edge as they aim to propel upwards.

“People are getting more interested in hockey so I am happy about it. As for our team, I believe Lithuania is already ready for the Division IA and this season will be the perfect time to get there,” said Alisauskas.

Alisauskas, who made his senior debut as an 18-year-old at the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division I level, was among many key omissions from last season’s bronze-winning team at the Division IB in Belfast. While the Lithuanian federation hopes to entice big hitters such as Alisauskas, NHL veteran Dainius Zubrus, netminder Mantas Armalis and the Kumeliauskas brothers, Donatas and Tadas, to commit themselves for a gold medal push in Kaunas, perhaps the biggest name of them all is ready to once again step out in the limelight at the age of 45.

Kasparaitis aims at making his national team debut for Lithuania during the Baltic Challenge Cup played on home ice in Klaipeda this November while also offering a chance for Alisauskas to finally line up next to his role model.

“I’ve only practised together with him in the past, so now I can’t wait to play together with him,” said Alisauskas.

KHL 101: A basic guide to the largest league in the world


Stretching from Europe to Asia and employing some of the top players in the world, the KHL is a league you should know a little about.

You can’t be an NHL fan anymore without knowing that the KHL exists. But you sure can get by knowing nothing much about it. Rumours, myths and stereotypes persist, and many fans, even fans of teams like the Leafs with multiple former KHL players, are not sure what the league is all about.

It’s in Russia, right? And the names on the jerseys are all in Cyrillic, and no one speaks English or ever gets paid. In Soviet Russia joke makes you. Right? Well, no.

Let’s tackle those persistent myths first.

The KHL, short for Kontinental Hockey League, is mostly Russian, but it has teams in seven countries and offers up its website in Russian, English and Chinese.

Because there are teams all over the non-Russian speaking parts of Europe and now in China, and because the games are televised widely, the names on the jerseys have always been in Latin script. They generally use a different transliteration for the Russian names to what the NHL uses. That doesn’t make one “right” and one “wrong”, but it does lead to confusion because the English-language twitter account and website don’t always use the same forms.

Nikita Zaitsev was Zaytsev on his jersey, but not on the website. Vadim Shipachyov is about to become Vadim Shipachev.

The rumours of money problems in the KHL are partly true, and partly exaggerated. There is a plan in place now to deal with the issue, and it’s complicated, but likely will succeed in stabilizing a league that expanded rapidly and then faced a catastrophic drop in the value of the ruble that plunged even some very well run teams into chaos.

The KHL is not about to collapse as many Canadian and American media like to report every summer as the league deals with delinquent teams. The fans gleefully imagining strip mining the league and “getting all those good players” while ignoring the rest as irrelevant aren’t going to get their wish.

The Soviet days are long past, and while many remnants of the old Soviet league that formed the genesis of the KHL linger on, mostly in team names, the league is a collection of individual businesses, just like the NHL. Some teams are very, very wealthy, and some are not, just like the NHL.

Now for some details.


The league stretches over a huge portion of the Earth, and travel times are onerous in some cities.

Scroll down to the interactive KHL Geography map and see the spread of teams from Slovan in Brataslava, Slovakia in the west to, not Kunlun Red Star in Beijing, like you might have expected, but Amur in Khabarovsk, Russia. That’s the scope of the league.

West Conference

CSKA (Moscow, Russia)
Dinamo Minsk (Belarus)
Dinamo Riga (Latvia)
HC Dynamo Moscow (Russia)
HC Sochi (Russia)
Jokerit (Helsinki, Finland)
Lokomotiv (Yaroslavl, Russia)
SKA (St. Petersburg, Russia)
Severstal (Cherepovets, Russia)
Slovan (Brataslava, Slovakia)
Spartak (Moscow, Russia)
Torpedo (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia)
Vityaz (Moscow Region, Russia)

East Conference

Admiral (Vladivostok, Russia)
Ak Bars (Kazan, Russia)
Amur (Khabarovsk, Russia)
Avangard (Omsk Region, Russia)
Avtomobilist (Yekaterinburg, Russia)
Barys (Astana, Kazakhstan)
Kunlun Red Star (Beijing, China)
Lada (Togliatti, Russia)
Metallurg Magnitogorsk (Russia)
Neftekhimik (Nizhnekamsk, Russia)
Salavat Yulaev (Ufa, Russia)
Sibir (Novosibirsk Region, Russia)
Traktor (Chelyabinsk, Russia)
Ugra (Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia)

That’s a lot of teams. It’s too many, and eventually the league realized they had grown to large. They cut a few this summer, teams that were underperforming in attendance or losing too much money. The plan for the future is to cut two or three teams per summer for the next few years. This is supposed to be decided primarily on attendance, but other factors such as financing will be taken into account.

At the same time new teams will be added. The expectation is that these teams will be in China or Europe.

Along with this contraction and expansion to better markets, a salary cap mechanism with some teeth in it will be brought in, with the goal to distribute the pay to the players in a better way. This post has a great deal of detail on the situation and expands on how the payment system will be altered, and how contraction will occur. Ultimately, the goal is to stabilize at 24 teams that are successful.


The KHL tries to have teams in countries outside Russia keep their national character. Jokerit’s players are mostly Finns, Dinamo Riga is mostly Latvian, etc. This is less easy with Kunlun Red Star, and the makeup of that team is a work in progress.

But the absorption of European teams from existing leagues, like Jokerit, and the overall pace of expansion has led to large numbers of foreign players on the Russian-based teams. Once a rarity, Canadians and Americans are becoming more prominent in the league.

Elite Prospects lists 15 countries of origin for players signed to the KHL for the coming season. Most, 632, are Russian, but there are 47 Canadians, 27 Czechs, 24 Swedes and 16 Americans. From countries with teams in the league, there are 42 Finns, 32 Belarusians, 34 Kazakhs and 30 Latvians.

For a lot of teams, English is widely spoken as a second language, and the more that is true, the more players from countries like Canada and Sweden will go to the KHL to play. Mike Keenan might be the most famous non-Russian coach in the KHL to NHL fans, but he’s not the only one. For a full rundown on who is behind the bench on KHL teams, Patrick Conway has a list of them at his blog sorted by division.

You say Dinamo. I say Dynamo. (Actually, it’s  Динамо.) Are we calling this whole thing off or not?

What’s with all the Dynamo teams anyway?

Wikipedia says that in 1923, the Soviet Union formed the Dynamo Sports Club societies to form part of the physical education system of the nation. The idea was exported to many Soviet client states in Eastern Europe and the name has remained on many surviving clubs all over Europe.

The KHL has three: Riga, Minsk and Moscow, and while the clubs aren’t related now, or state owned, they share a ideological past.

The other main sponsor of sports clubs and teams in the Soviet Union was the army, made famous by the Red Army team in the seventies. That team is now CSKA. SKA is also a military team.

In industrial areas, clubs were often sponsored by the local state-run industry. So you get Traktor, Avtobomilist, Lada, Metallurg and Lokomotiv all named after the local product or industry.

The KHL has also ended up with two teams named for the snow leopard. Both Ak Bars Kazan and Barys Astana take their names from the local word for that central Asian animal.


The KHL season begins in the summer. Pre-season games begin in July, with regular season action starting in August. The playoffs are in the spring, with the Gagarin Cup handed out a couple of weeks before the IIHF World Championships in May.

The KHL is taking an Olympic break from late January through most of February this year, making that league an attractive destination this year for players hoping to be named to their national teams. They have cut the schedule to 56 games to help make that happen.

The playoffs begin a few days after the return from the break.


The playoff format is very familiar to NHL fans. The top eight teams in each conference playoff until a champion remains, and then they play for the cup.

It’s a very attractive cup.

Farm teams

The VHL is the farm team league, and is somewhat analogous to the AHL. The KHL is made up of teams, many of which are older than the league itself, that are part of a European-style sports club system. The club may have a soccer team, a hockey team, a bandy team and any number of other divisions, including women’s teams, junior teams and a VHL team.

The VHL is run by the Russian Hockey Federation, not the KHL. As the KHL has contracted, and will continue to do so, the VHL is absorbing some of those teams, while its own unprofitable teams are either dropped down a division or dissolved.

The dissolution this year of Dynamo Moscow’s VHL club, after winning the championship last year, was due to internal money problems at that club after a change of ownership. Eventually, the KHL team restructured to the point they can continue.


The MHL is the junior or U20 league, and most of the teams in the league are feeder teams for the KHL system. Unlike in North America, the junior system in Europe keeps a young player within a club from a young age to the top team, if she’s lucky. Many top players move up at around 16 to better teams. Yegor Korshkov moved from Kazakhstan, where his father played, to Yaroslavl, and has played in the Lokomotiv system ever since.

Style of Play and League Strength

Everyone asks this: What’s the playing style like and how is it different to the NHL. This along with where does the league fit with other leagues is a very hard question to answer, and is controversial. Some North American fans sneer in angry disdain at the idea that the KHL is better than the AHL.

First, imagine answering this question the other way around. How good is the NHL? What do they play like? Are you going to answer based on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Colorado Avalanche, the New Jersey Devils or the Chicago Blackhawks? Is the NHL fast or slow, offensive or defensive, good or bad?

It is undisputed by anyone but the biggest homer fan of another league that the KHL is the best league in Europe. But the worst teams in the KHL might well be nowhere near able to compete in the Swiss league. The best teams, the very few elite top playoff teams that have money and top players are, in my opinion, far and away better than any AHL team.

The KHL is, in general, a faster, more shooting and passing based game than you see in North America. For players coming over to the NHL, some things are very different, and I’ll quote myself from last summer’s Top 25 Under 25 comments on Nikita Zaitsev.

Now, my main concern about him: that easy glide up the neutral zone with the puck. He’s a good skater, handles the puck well, but he’s always done this on wide ice, with opposing teams who tend to fall back more and concede the zone if not the o-zone entry itself. That is not how NHL teams play. Well, the Stars do, but imagine hitting the New Jersey Devils neutral zone meat grinder when you think you’re just out for a skate? Or the Kings or the Red Wings or it just goes on and on.

When CSKA failed against Magnitka, it was because Magnitka pressured early in the neutral zone and stripped the puck off of them. This is systems stuff, and I am not saying that he cannot play how Babcock wants him to. I’m saying I don’t know because CSKA never did.

With very few exceptions, the neutral zone is easier to get through in the KHL than it is in the NHL. This is also an issue with offensively-high-flying AHL teams when they hit one of the elite level teams that defend well. So it’s partly a question of skills gap in a league that’s too large, and also a style of play that evolved on bigger ice.

One other thing I have noted over the years is that players with NHL experience shoot more. Whether this is a style difference or a skills-gap is, again, hard to say, but it looks like the general KHL style is to pass the puck until a higher-percentage play opens up.

Smaller players can have huge success in the KHL, particularly small defencemen who aren’t quite good enough for the NHL. The idea that there is no physical play in the KHL is wrong, however, board battles and corner work are much less important than in North American hockey.

Older players also succeed in the KHL. Last season a clutch of 35 year olds were leading the league in most categories outside of goaltending. The length of the season and the number of breaks and days off might explain that. 60 games with several week-long breaks is a lot easier than an NHL grind.

If you want a look at the KHL without navigating their site to pay for the games, although they are inexpensive, watch the Olympics this year. You’ll see KHL players on every top team, and you might be very surprised at how much fun they are to watch. Just, you know, be prepared for Russia to win it all.

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