New faces, new coaches and familiar ambitions as the start of the season approaches

Dinamo Minsk
Last season: failed to make playoffs

One of the most passionate hockey cities in the KHL is still looking for the formula that can send Dinamo deep into the playoffs. This time Craig Woodcroft is the coach entrusted with finding the right blend. He knows his Belarusian hockey after two World Championship campaigns as assistant coach for the national team, and he’s recruited some big-name local talents in the form of D-man Kirill Gotovets and forward Sergei Kostitsyn. He’s also picked up two guys who have gone all the way to the grand final on an unfancied team - Marc-Andre Gragnari and David Ullstrom achieved it with Lev Prague in 2014. With a couple of new arrivals from North America in the shape of goalie Ben Scrivens and defenseman Rob Klinkhammer, there’s a lot of potential in Minsk – if the new roster can bed down in time.

Dinamo Riga
Last season: failed to make playoffs

Another arena where support outstrips success, the Latvian capital is hoping for an improvement on last season’s disappointment. Unusually, Dinamo has opted to make GM Normunds Sejejs the head coach for the coming season. Sejejs has been instrumental in the modern-day history of Latvia’s biggest sports club, perhaps doing more than most to resurrect the famous name in time to join the KHL. But even he admits he’s taking a huge risk by combining the demanding roles of GM and head coach. The transfer activity came in a rush – 24 contracts were concluded in a single day last week. Among the new arrivals were Georgijs Pujacs, a vastly experienced D-man who played at the Olympics for Latvia and helped Avangard to the Gagarin Cup final in 2012, and forward Colton Gillies, who has 154 NHL appearances on his CV. The pair arrive from Slovakia, where they were playing for Banska Bystrica.

Jokerit
Last season: lost in first round of playoffs

Jukka Jalonen replaces Erkka Westerlund at the helm in Helsinki – and as usual Jokerit is having to address the departure of some big players. Danish D-man Philip Larsen and Finnish forward Ere Sallinen are both crossing the Atlantic, veteran goalgetters Juhamatti Aaltonen and Niko Kapanen are moving to the Finnish Liiga and prolific Brandon Kozun will be at Lokomotiv next season. Incoming talent from the Finnish league will bear much of that burden, but the arrival of another Danish defenseman, Oliver Lauridsen, promises much. The 27-year-old former Flyers prospect enjoyed a successful campaign last time around, helping Frolunda to the Swedish title and Champions Hockey League gold before reaching a World Championship quarter final with Denmark. Olympic bronze medallist Sakari Salminen makes a KHL return with Jokerit having previously spent two seasons at Torpedo.

SKA
Last season: lost in Conference final

By far the most headline-grabbing team in the close season, SKA has upped the ante for the coming campaign. Signing a clutch of players from the NHL, led by the great Pavel Datsyuk, sounded a warning to the rest of the league. Hiring Oleg Znarok to coach a stellar roster ensures that there should be no danger of big-name egos getting out of hand. The Petersburg team mounted a good-looking defense of the Gagarin Cup last season … right up until it was swept by CSKA in the Conference final. This time around, it’s serving as a serious contender for KHL hardware and a base club for the Russian national team – that double responsibility could be the only thing to inhibit such a powerful line-up. Barring a calamity when Znarok takes time out to lead Russia to the World Cup in the latter half of September, it’s hard to imagine SKA will fail to lead from the front in the West.

Medvescak
Last season: failed to make playoffs

At first sight it looks like another summer of frenetic activity in Zagreb. On closer inspection, though, Medvescak’s preparations have been rather more calm. Head coach Gordie Dwyer remains in place and while there has been extensive transfer action, many of the players coming in are returning to the club after short spells elsewhere in Europe. Dwyer has spoken at length of the need for Croatia’s KHL representative to quickly forge a strong team identity on the ice – and he hopes that this, combined with the typically intimidating atmosphere at Dom Sportova, can push the team back into playoff contention. Francis Pare, a Gagarin Cup winner at Metallurg, is a familiar figure in this league, while fellow forward Yann Sauve could be one to watch after impressing in pre-season.

Slovan
Last season: lost in first round of playoffs

Milos Riha showed that he still had the old magic as he conjured a playoff spot for Slovan last season, pushing CSKA rather harder than the 0-4 scoreline suggested back in March. But the club has been ruthless in the summer and it’s a new-look roster that will aim to start winning post-season games this time around. Kyle Chipchura is the big new arrival, coming from Arizona with almost 500 career NHL games. The 30-year-old Canadian center will be expected to lead Slovan’s production at the head of a revamped offense. Radek Smolenak, Medvescak’s top scorer last time, is one new signing while Jonathan Cheechoo continues his KHL tour after stints in Zagreb and Minsk. Defensively the loss of Cam Barker (Barys) and the retirement of Lubo Vishnovsky will leave gaps in front of Justin Pogge, the Canadian goalie who arrives from Farjestad, Sweden.

Spartak
Last season: failed to make playoffs

Spartak struggled for consistency in its first season back in the KHL but will hope for better as the club celebrates its 70th anniversary. The arrival of the hugely experienced Dmitry Kalinin from SKA should add some valuable resilience on the blue line while Ryan Stoa – once something of a lynchpin at Metallurg Novokuznetsk – could add some valuable muscle on offense. There’s also a new-look goaltending brigade, with Sweden’s Markus Svensson coming from Skelleftea and Nikita Bespalov seeking to secure a #1 spot after being the understudy to Alexander Salak at Sibir.