To compete with the NHL for players, KHL needs to eliminate Bazas, says Traktor Chelyabinsk goalie Michael Garnett
The KHL has done some amazing things in its first few years of existence. Coming from the old Russian Superleague, the amount of organization and central governance is very much an improvement. The game on the ice is world class. It is truly a level of hockey that can compete with that of the NHL. The contracts are similar, the arenas are similar, the fans are similar, but there is one specific area that couldn’t be more different. I am speaking about the league rules regarding team off ice policy.
One major thing that exists in the KHL that would never be forced on anyone in the NHL is the baza. For those of you unfamiliar with what the baza is all about, the best comparison I can make is to that of a military base mixed with a jail.
Team bazas are usually left over from the time of the U.S.S.R. and are usually several decades old. They are usually located a fairly long drive away from the arena in a remote, quiet area.
There are numerous things that players around the league dislike about bazas. Players are forced to sleep on single beds about a meter away from another teammate. This leads to a very poor quality of sleep considering you are awaken every time they snore, use the bathroom, receive a sms or a phone call, among other things. Apart from just your roommate disrupting your sleep you have to deal with everybody on the floor. The floors are old. They creak so badly that as soon as somebody starts walking around in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning, you are awake.
What some teams will do is force all of their players to go live at their baza for about 24 hours before a home game.
Because of the distance from the arena, there is also a significant amount of time that is spent sitting in traffic. For example, in Chelyabinsk, I have to report to the arena by about 19:45 the night before a game in order to catch the bus to the baza at 20:00. This means I have to drive for 20 minutes to the rink, and 30 minutes on the bus the night before the game. On game day, it’s 30 minutes to pregame skate, 30 minutes back, and then 30 minutes to the game. That’s 90 minutes before the game spent sitting in traffic.
These are all things that take the home ice advantage away from the home team before a home game. One of the biggest challenges for a hockey player during a roadtrip is trying to sleep on many different beds that are not their own. I get laughed at all the time by my teammates for bringing my own pillow on the roadtrips but I find it’s the only way I can sleep. I really think it’s a huge advantage to sleep in your own bed before a big game.
The biggest problem we have with the baza has nothing to do with the facility or its location. It is a psychological problem. We don’t like being forced to leave our home and our families a full day before a game. There is enough time spent away from family and friends during the season with all of the travel that it seems ridiculous to the players that we should have to spend time away from loved ones when we are in our home cities.
Another issue that came up last year is that in rare occasions, at least one team used the baza almost like a prison as punishment. After a series of losses last year with Dynamo Moscow, we had to stay at the baza for an extended period of time. The security guard was also instructed not to open the gate to let us take our cars out of the parking lot. We were in effect, imprisoned in our baza. I immediately called my agent and had him speak with the president of the league. Shortly after this we were allowed to drive out of the parking lot during the daytime at least in order to get out of the baza for a few hours.
I can’t argue for the positive side of having a baza. I will instead try to offer up some things I think might be used against my argument. I believe in some cases the teams haven’t changed and got rid of their bazas because nobody has brought it up. They’ve always had a baza so why would they ever change?
Another reason that I think hypothetically could be brought up is that the teams don’t trust the players to make good decisions about their diet before the game. I disagree with this and I think it is indeed possible to get a good meal the night before the game in Chelyabinsk and any other city in the league.
I would also like to add that the KHL is not a league of young irresponsible players. We are a league of world class, responsible men. The irresponsible hockey players have been weeded out long ago and would never be able to progress to a league of this level. We know how to make proper choices with regards to preparing for home games.
Possibly they think the players will be disturbed by their families and not be well rested. If this is the case, and the player has small children or a crazy wife, they should be given the OPTION to stay at the baza. In fact, if there are players that couldn’t be trusted to stay in their own home the night before a game, I’m not sure that we, as a league, should want those players in our league.
If you look around the league at the teams that have bazas and the teams that don’t, there won’t really be a pattern. Some examples of teams with bazas are CSKA, Dynamo Moscow, Neftekhimik, Vityaz Ak Bars, and Traktor. Some examples of teams without bazas are Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Barys, SKA, Spartak, Dinamo Riga, Dinamo Minsk, Torpedo, Lev, Atlant, and Salavat Yulaev. There isn’t a pattern of success vs. failure with regard to having a baza vs. not having one.
I do know that there are players that will not play for teams that force their players to leave their families and stay in the baza before a home game. This is definitely hurting those teams with bazas as there are numerous players that they are simply not in the market to attract based on their baza policy.
Also, there is a cost involved with owning and maintaining a baza that can be very large. To improve the quality of the league, this is money that could be used to help the teams by hiring better players or coaches.
I’m not writing this solely because I happen to be on one of the teams with a baza, I’m writing it because I honestly believe that the quality of hockey on the ice would be improved by the league legislating an end to the old, outdated practice of sequestering their teams at bazas. My recommendation to the league is to end the mandatory baza. If they want to offer it as an option, and the players choose to go, then that is great. But I think ultimately, if the KHL wants to compete with the NHL for players, this is an issue that needs to be addressed. The league needs to make a universal rule for all teams either banning bazas, or making them optional.
@michaelgarnett on Twitter