The 14th KHL season starts on Sep. 1 when Balashikha hosts the Opening Cup game between Avangard and CSKA. A week before the puck drops, we caught up with senior management to get the latest news.
Alexei Morozov: Today Admiral submitted the documents in support of its application to play this season. The relevant departments will check everything to ensure that the club is ready for the season of the championship. Admiral has fully cleared its debts to those players who went to court. The club also repaid 50% of what it owes to four other players and coaches and will clear the remaining debt in the near future. It’s hard to assess the club’s readiness from the pre-season, but we hope that the team will be competitive during the season.
Alexei Morozov: It’s true that in Moscow we currently have different rules for the Mayor of Moscow Cup and our KHL regular season games. We’re in close contact with the local authorities and we have written to [public health watchdog] Rospotrebnadzor and [deputy PM] Dmitry Chernyshenko. We hope they will make the right decision and allow attendances up to 50% of capacity.
Salary floor and cap
Alexei Morozov: In the coming season, the salary floor will be 315 million rubles ($4.27 million). Step by step, we’re bringing this up to 50% of the salary cap (900 million rubles, $12.2 million). We’re not currently considering the possibility of waiving the cap for star players. Which players would this affect? Last season, Ilya Kovalchuk came to the KHL and won the Gagarin Cup. Not long ago I was chatting to Alexander Ovechkin and he asked about a possible exodus of star players. I told about the bonuses available and how, if players do well, there is good money. He was unaware of these individual and team bonuses.
Sergei Dobrokhvalov: Making exceptions [to the salary cap] could make the tournament more interesting, but after a couple of seasons we would be back to an unbalanced line-up. Our aim is to encourage greater competition in the league. We need to take a long-term view. Before we applied the hard salary cup, the Board of Directors considered an alternative with a cap of 600 million rubles and two ‘star’ exemptions. In the event, though, the clubs chose a 900 million ruble cap and no exemptions.
Alexei Morozov: Clubs are asking about a possible change in the number of import players. We’ve looked at the situation and at the moment we are attracting top players from European leagues, international players, and just 20% of the rosters in the league are made up of imports. We feel we have the right balance at the moment, and this is helping to develop Russian players.
Coronavirus and border crossings
Alexei Morozov: We’re working with club representatives. We will keep the same set-up as last year, players have to produce a PCR test, proof of vaccination or proof of antibodies. In Riga and Helsinki, visiting teams will live in ‘clean zones’. There are several suitable hotels, where the players can remain in one place and not need to go into the city, then leave immediately after the game. Overall, we have good numbers for vaccinations in the league — on average, 70% of players and team staff are jabbed.
All Star Week
Sergei Dobrokhvalov: Back last season, when we were preparing for Riga, we thought about some changes to the format. All those ideas are still under consideration and we’re drawing up a concept with a our colleagues on the ground in Chelyabinsk. We’ll present this season’s format in October.
Alexei Morozov: This year, like last year, we’re planning to take some games on the road. Unfortunately, we can’t go to Germany or Hungary. The current option is the UAE. We’re in talks, but we can’t announce anything until the paperwork is signed. We will do everything we can to ensure that we get at least one event as part of the KHL World Games. The Emirates does not have a dedicated hockey arena, but they have the technology and the venues to put on a game in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai.
Games against the NHL
Alexei Morozov: We are in correspondence with the NHL’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Right now both leagues are preparing for the start of their seasons, and they still have questions about the Olympics. But the reaction is positive and in mid-October we’re planning to discuss this further.
Sergei Dobrokhvalov: We understand our values and traditions, but if we are unwilling to change then in 10-15 years nobody will be watching hockey. We have to think about the younger generation, and how to make a product that will interest them. We’ve discussed this a lot in recent years within the league. You know that we held a strategic session and incorporated some of those decisions into our regulations. Right now, we feel that the best format would enable different generations in different environments to enjoy the product in different ways. But the idea is that when they meet later, they are talking about the same thing rather than necessarily watching together.