Yekaterinburg is one of Russia’s biggest cities, but its hockey team has struggled to compete with the best up to now. All that, however, could be on the verge of changing as Avtomobilist is investing heavily in some big names. For a club which was struggling to pay its bills at times last season, the chance to sign up the likes of NHL veteran Alexei Yashin, 2004 Stanley Cup winner Dmitry Afanasenkov and assorted other big names represents a huge change in fortunes.
Yet, as Vyacheslav Potekhin, one of the club’s directors, told Sovietsky Sport, big plans are coming to fruition – with Yashin on top of Avtomobilist’s list of summer signings. At the time of writing the former Ottawa Senator and New York Islander is believed to have agreed in principle to return to the club where his career began as a rookie back in 1990 – and it only remains to agree a suitable contract for the veteran of 850 NHL games. If a deal can be done, Yashin will join Stanley Cup winner Dmitry Afanasenkov (freshly arrived from Swiss side Fribourg-Gotteron) and former Spartak forward Alexei Zavarukhin on the roster.
But that’s not the limit of the team’s ambitions under newly-appointed head coach Igor Ulanov. According to Potekhin, a deal is in the offing for Dinamo Riga’s America goalie Chris Holt and experienced Czech forward Josef Straka, who spent last season at Ak Bars Kazan. With two members of the Lev Poprad roster – Branislav Mezei and Rastislav Spirko – also in talks, it could be an exciting season for the ‘Motorists’ of the Urals.
Meanwhile, despite the increased outlay, Potekhin is keen to point out that the club’s management will not gamble the long term future of the organization. “We have money, but we won’t be offering the kind of contracts that SKA St. Petersburg can afford,” he told Sovietsky Sport. “We fully understand the situation of the club, which only got out of debt last season. But we also understand the value of what players like Yashin can bring to the team.”
In other news, Alexander Radulov’s contract at Salavat Yulaev has been taken over by CSKA Moscow. The Army Club paid an undisclosed fee for the rights to the forward, who – as reported here last week - is thought likely to return to the KHL after Nashville Predators agreed to release him from his NHL commitments.