The start of the playoffs is less than a month away. Coronavirus and all the related restrictions were the main issue when preparing for this season’s championship. Will we see any changes to the COVID regulations before the playoffs, and what is the overall situation around the pandemic right now?
We extended our testing program for players, officials, and team staff until the end of the season. In the second part of the season, we will only be testing those teams that are still involved in the battle for the Gagarin Cup. In terms of infections, we have picked up a few isolated cases in the last month.
The regulations themselves, which are intended to serve as epidemiological controls, will be amended slightly to adjust them to the specifics of playoff hockey. The controls have proved themselves up to now, so it would be wrong to make wholesale changes at this stage. Thanks to the well-coordinated efforts of all concerned, we have almost completed the regular season and we are getting ready for the playoffs.
The KHL is working with Russia’s public health authorities to enable more fans to attend games in the arenas. We want to work with each club individually to maximize attendances.
People often ask about vaccines. I should emphasize that vaccinations are voluntary. Some clubs have started offering jabs and several others are planning to do so — at least for those who have not previously been infected — after testing for immunity.
It’s a long time since we last published any figures. Up to the evening of Feb. 6, 572 people involved with the KHL had tested positive this season, of whom 305 were players. At the present time, one player is on the injured list due to COVID-19.
The 2020-2021 season is coming to an end and that means it’s time to start thinking about the future. Is there any word on Admiral returning to the league next season?
The league remains in contact with the club management. We’re looking forward to Admiral’s return next season. In Vladivostok, everyone knows what they have to do and what documents they need to provide. As with any team, we need to do everything by the book and we’re waiting for the club to complete the necessary paperwork.
This season, we have a hard salary cap in place, yet the Eastern Conference playoff participants are already established. Only the West still promises a competitive end to the season, where the race between Spartak and Vityaz looks set to go to the last game.
Although most of the playoff places have been filled, we can see how the teams have moved closer together. In both the Eastern and Western Conferences there is little to choose between them, the leaders are the only exceptions in each conference. In the West, SKA, Lokomotiv and Dynamo Moscow are all very close together, then there is a further group comprising Jokerit, Dinamo Minsk, Severstal, Vityaz and Spartak. And it’s very similar in the East, where Avangard, Metallurg and Salavat Yulaev are separated by a few points, as is a second group comprising Avtomobilist, Torpedo, Barys and Traktor. This sets up an exciting battle for positions in the final days of the season, with every team trying to finish as high in the table as possible.
At the start of the season, coronavirus forced teams to use more young players. Now, as the number of infected players has fallen almost to zero, we can see that our clubs continue to have faith in their young prospects. They are gradually taking on bigger roles, especially the guys who went to the recent World Junior Championship. And the figures back this up: this season we’ve set a record for the total number of under-20s appearing in at least one KHL game. Collectively, the juniors have featured in more than 1,300 games, which is already the third highest even before the end of the season. And we’re seeing more scoring: the goals-per-game average is up almost 0.5 per game compared with last season, the best for a decade.
There was a notable occasion on Sunday in Magnitogorsk, when Sergei Mozyakin got to play alongside his son, Andrei, in Metallurg’s game against Vityaz.
We’re delighted that one of the biggest dreams of the KHL’s best ever forward came true and Sergei was able to play on the same line as his son. And Metallurg has done this before, when the Platonovs played together. I hope that we might see some more nice stories before the end of the season — maybe a Zaripov family line? For young players, it’s a great introduction to senior hockey and for the clubs it makes a nice gesture towards their cult figures.
At the end of January, the league met with the working groups exploring various issues related to changes in the regulations. What were the key takeaways from this meeting?
First of all, it’s always good to have a face-to-face meeting with representatives of the clubs — there were 27 at this one — and hear their thoughts. Discussions in person are always worthwhile, it’s much easier to share opinions. We discussed several different questions. Some provoked heated debates and will be investigated further. Many of the issues relate to further refining our regulations, to make them more logical and easier to understand. Lokomotiv proposed a review of the way individual bonuses are offered to players when they are traded to another KHL club. We have made changes to the rules and now it is possible for individual labor disputes to be referred to Russia’s National Center of Sporting Arbitration. Dynamo Moscow suggested introducing a severance clause in the contracts of head coaches, to determine the size of any pay-off if a coach leaves his position early. That would be similar to the rules in player contracts. Overall, it’s encouraging to see clubs bringing proposals to these meetings.