I’m very happy to see you, it’s been a long time! Today we held our progress meeting with all the clubs in the KHL. We gave an update on the league’s development strategy, reviewed what we have done this year and what was done in the past. In the current season, 29 games could not take place as planned. We have rescheduled 21 of those, which already have new dates. Six games were forfeited and two will be rearranged when the clubs involved can agree on a new date. We thanked the clubs for working with us, for actively encouraging young players and, in some cases, young coaches. That has helped us to limit the number of postponed games that we might have had this season. And the coaches got a chance to test their squad depth in real competition. The youngsters got a taste of the KHL and many of them made a positive impression.
We also started right now with the preparations for next season’s schedule. We are asking all clubs to get us up to date with any other demands on the arenas in their cities. We want to get away from situations where a game is scheduled on the same day as a concert at the arena. We want a better rhythm to the schedule, so that players have as much recovery time as possible.
Testing players and club representatives is a big issue. Since Nov. 1 we have extended our testing program for players and game-day staff. Up to now we have done 70,000 tests and in the KHL 529 people who were tested were ill with coronavirus. We looked at the quality of our testing program, appointed managers and sent teams out to do tests ‘in the field’. Most tests produce a result in 12 hours, and our express tests have an answer in four hours.
We also talked about the effect of the hard salary cap. Our statistics show that no KHL club is breaching the cap. We have introduced an extra provision, which means that players who are quarantined due to COVID-19 and go on the injured list will not be counted under the cap.
After the game against Jokerit, Ak Bars head coach Dmitry Kvartalnov complained that his international players were unavailable to play for their club. What’s the KHL’s position on this question? Might the league reach an agreement with the Russian Hockey Federation so that we don’t have this problem in future?
This season is unusual. Like I said, 29 games couldn’t take place as planned. We agreed our schedule with the FHR before the start of the season. Moving the Jokerit — Ak Bars game to a date when players were due to join their national teams was agreed with the FHR and the clubs. They all knew that on that date, some players might be needed by their countries. We understand that the home stage of the Euro Hockey Tour is an important stage in the preparations and the national team wants to call on its strongest players. And the game itself finished with Ak Bars winning, even without its internationals. Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t play games on days when players should be with their national teams.
The national team wants to see the players it calls up. Every club will face each other, the league puts everyone together. I think, if it had been a different stage of the Euro Tour, things would have been different. But I repeat — a tournament played in Moscow is always very important for us and for the whole country.
What is happening with Jokerit? It’s clear that the Finnish authorities have their own laws but now we are seeing a situation where a whole line of Salavat Yulaev players are not even allowed in the arena. Would you agree that this is not normal, even in these circumstances? How can the KHL work with the Finnish club to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
Thanks for an interesting question. We are an international league and in every country and every region there are different rules to deal with the pandemic. The situation with Salavat Yulaev arose unexpectedly. On that very day, the Finnish Health Ministry suspended the country’s hockey championship and introduced new rules. Players who had been ill with coronavirus three months earlier or who had an antibody reading lower than two were not allowed to play. We got in touch with the clubs right away. Salavat Yulaev managed to put out a team and I’m grateful to them for that. Right afterwards, the KHL got in touch with the Finnish Health Ministry and with our clubs. We reminded everyone that we are on a tight schedule. And I think that now, if something else happens because of Jokerit, the KHL is likely to award the game to the opposition. But I’d like to stress that we will treat each case individually, we don’t want to rush to a decision. We’re waiting for a response from Russia’s public health watchdog and we will make our decisions after that.
We also received reports from the Finns that they have relaxed their rules. Jokerit will be permitted to play in Finland and only players who suffered from coronavirus more than six months ago will be placed in the ‘risk’ group. The current testing on arrival in Finland will remain. Even so, we worked out an alternative, and even had an arena ready to stage Jokerit’s December games in Russia.
Metallurg director Sergei Laskov said that in that situation the visiting team should have left Helsinki immediately without playing the game. If that happened, Jokerit would forfeit the game. What are your thoughts on that?
We consider each case on its own merits. We have already had cases this season where players have tested positive before a game and needed to fly straight home for further observation. Deciding to impose a forfeit happens later. If you always chop the arm off at the shoulder, nothing good will follow.
What’s happening with Admiral? Will the club be back in the KHL next season?
We don’t have any concrete news yet. We wrote to the governor and explained the situation and we are waiting for a response.
Will the KHL roll out a mass vaccination using the Russian Sputnik-V coronavirus vaccine?
Our medical staff are exploring various options. It’s very important that we understand how the vaccine might affect professional athletes. Moreover, many of our people have been infected and, as far as I know, the vaccine is not used on people with antibodies. So right now, we are not planning any mass vaccination. We have played more than 60% of the championship and the playoffs will be starting quite soon. I hope that everyone will stay healthy and play at the peak of his fitness. Questions about vaccinations are more complicated and our medics will make their decision in conjunction with the authorities.
Zack Mitchell declined a transfer to Severstal, and the club referred it to the disciplinary committee. Do you have any comment on that?
The committee has not yet made a decision. We are waiting for that and afterwards we will be able to comment.
There are reports that in February, CSKA’s arena on Leningradsky Prospekt might be demolished. Do you have any more information about this?
The most reliable information would be from the directors at CSKA. I’m sure it’s up to them to say more about this. We are in touch with the club and we knew about these plans. At present the junior team, Krasnaya Armiya, plays in that arena, but there are other rinks in Moscow where it could play.
In China, things seem to be getting back to normal. Is it possible that Kunlun might return home this season?
I met with Kunlun’s new directors. They are planning to complete this season in Moscow Region. Right now, the situation in China would still make it impossible to return. There is still a ban on sporting events in the country. Therefore, Kunlun will finish the current season in Mytishchi.
Are you considering having the playoffs in a ‘bubble’? And what do you make of Teemu Selanne’s claim that the KHL isn’t concerned for the health of its players?
Yesterday at the World Hockey Forum I took part in a really interesting discussion along with representatives of the FHR, Gary Bettman from the NHL and the head of Hockey Canada. We discussed different ways of holding events during the pandemic and everyone agreed that we need to play, we can’t simply suspend hockey for a year. I’d like to congratulate the FHR for finding a way to stage the Euro Tour in Moscow — and have fans in the building to enjoy watching the best players in the country — despite all the problems we face at the moment.
Look at how the world is responding to the pandemic. It’s different everywhere. Some are sitting anxiously at home while someone else rides the bus to work without wearing a mask. Everyone has his own opinion. I read Teemu Selanne’s comments, and it seems to me that the KHL has put in a huge amount of work to protect the health of our players and the staff at our clubs. We’ve done thousands of tests, organized clean zones in the arenas and restricted the number of people who can enter them. I hope that the hardest part is over and we will see more fans coming back to more arenas.
Do you think there is a need for a European Cup? Would it be worth KHL teams taking part in that?
I also enjoyed it when I helped Ak Bars to win the European Champions Cup. It’s a good feeling to be the best in the continent. But that tournament only needed three days. At the start of the KHL season we spoke with IIHF President Rene Fasel about staging a European Cup. Unfortunately, it’s not possible at the moment because of the pandemic. But the conversation is on-going. We have a tight schedule and there are already breaks for the Euro Tour. If you look at the Spengler Cup, some teams go and try to win it, taking their strongest players; others are happy just to take part and give some younger players experience. I’d like to see all Russian clubs, and our national team, winning on all international fronts.