After several seasons of struggle, CSKA is ready to resume its place among the hockey elite – and with a high-profile new roster there are serious expectations that the world’s most successful club side can go on and put a new prize in the trophy cabinet.
Oil company Rosneft bought up the club last season, and has flexed its financial muscle over the summer. New head coach Valery Bragin, who was previously working with Russia’s under-20s, has been able to spend heavily, and the capture of Alexander Radulov (pictured) was widely seen as a statement of intent. Radulov is the KHL’s all-time leading point-scorer, and his lucrative contract with the Army Men was one of the summer’s big talking points. Even Russian president Vladimir Putin weighed into the debate, questioning whether Rosneft might not be spending too much on the reported 300 million ruble contract for the player.
Radulov is not the only new signing, though, and there are reports that an NHL lock-out could see CSKA swoop for big names from across the ocean. Metallurg Magnitogorsk has already actively reminded the Moscow team that it has first refusal on Evgeny Malkin, but Dynamo Moscow has already admitted it won’t get into an auction with CSKA’s petrodollars to secure Alexander Ovechkin. Meanwhile, confirmed arrivals include experienced D-man Denis Denisov from SKA, impressive Finnish defenseman Mikko Maenpaa from Amur and powerful forward Janis Sprukts from Dinamo Riga. Fellow forward Oleg Kvasha has enjoyed a lively pre-season since arriving from Neftekhimik, while Alex Radulov is joined by elder brother Igor.
But great investment leads to great expectations, and the pressure is on CSKA’s starry new line-up to add the shine of silverware to its glittering new roster by the end of the season. Not surprisingly, then, Bragin and others have worked carefully at managing expectations and deflecting questions about their chances of winning the Gagarin Cup.
“How can I answer this question? OK, yes, we’re going to win the cup?” Bragin mused at a press conference during the Mayor of Moscow Cup. “There are no miracles in this world, and at the moment we are still working on getting the team to play consistently through each game. It’s difficult to ensure the players stick to the game plan for the whole 60 minutes; it takes time.”
Pre-season results have reflected the inconsistency Bragin had noted in his team’s play: however, a second-place finish in that Moscow tournament gave grounds for encouragement, especially considering the team played without the likes of Radulov and Sergei Shirokov. Bragin rated the 3-5 defeat to Gagarin Cup winners Dynamo as a success, and said he had more or less finalized his line-up for the KHL campaign.