Archive for the Category ◊ KHL ◊

10 Jun 2012 Fedorov an Army Man Once More
Sergei Fedorov

Sergei Fedorov will retire from professional hockey.

Hockey super star Sergei Fedorov will skate no more.  As we speculated several weeks ago, the former NHLer retired to take the helm of CSKA Moscow, the Russian club where he first honed his craft playing on a line with Alexander Mogilny and Pavel Bure.

One of the most colorful and decorated Russians ever to don an NHL jersey, Fedorov is returning to the team from which he defected in 1990.

Fedorov had been skating for Siberian powerhouse Metallurg Magnitogorsk since leaving the NHL for the KHL in 2009.  In that time, his popularity soared in the country he once believed he would never set foot in again.

Officials hope Fedorov’s Red Army homecoming heralds a change in fortune for the once-dominant Russian squad.  The club has struggled in recent years, and many in the Russian media believe his name will attract the top free agents the team has been unable secure in recent years.

A large jersey-shaped banner showing the club's many championship teams hangs in the CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. It reads "Champion USSR."

A large jersey-shaped banner showing the club's many championship teams hangs in the CSKA Ice Palace in Moscow. It reads "Champion USSR."

In its heyday during Soviet times, CSKA — which stands for the Central Sports Club of the Army — crushed all who stood in its path.  If there was a good prospect to be had, that player was simply drafted into the Soviet Army and was, thus, compelled to play.  The names associated with CSKA are staggering:  From Sergei Makarov, Vladimir Krutov, Vladislav Tretiak and Valeri Kharlamov, to Bure and Mogilny, to the players comprising the Detroit Red Wings’ vaunted “Russian Five” (Fedorov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Vladimir Konstantinov) — the powerful CSKA had them all.

Fedorov has been quoted in the Russian media indicating the team will pursue big-name free agents, including Alexander Radulov, with whom the Nashville Predators are parting ways.  He has indicated Radulov — who has won the Gagarin Cup (the KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup) — would be welcome in the CSKA camp.

Fedorov’s retirement from competitive hockey seems to finally close the book on an exciting, intriguing, sometimes frightening chapter in hockey history.  When Fedorov was young, the world was a very different place and players who defected, left home and family expecting never to return.

Fedorov, like Mogilny before him, helped pave the way for the Russians coming to the NHL today. Unlike Fedorov and Mogilny, today’s Russians leave of their own free will and are free to return at any time.  It is hard to contemplate the life-and-death decisions these early Eastern-bloc players were forced to make.  Fedorov has said he didn’t know how his family back home would be treated, didn’t know what would happen to him if his escape plans were uncovered, and had no idea how hard it would be to suddenly find himself a stranger in a foreign land who no longer had a country to call his own.

Despite the hardships and heartache, Fedorov thrived in Detroit, becoming a star on and off the ice.  While Fedorov electrified hockey fans with his otherworldly skills, his good looks and off ice courting of famous beauties kept the gossip page editors drooling.  He glimmered and shone in the glare of the limelight and somehow seemed destined to eventually end up in California among the “beautiful people.”

He played almost a full season for the Anaheim Ducks, maintaining the level of play observers had come to expect.  Following the NHL lockout, which killed the entire 2004-05 season, Fedorov’s offensive production fell off.  He was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets early in the 2005-06 season.  Though his offensive output was no longer what it once was, Fedorov brought some much-needed star power to the fledgling Blue Jackets.  And though the team struggled, fans in Ohio were treated to the hockey stylings of one of the best to ever play the game.

Sergei Fedorov

Fedorov provided a solid veteran presence in Washington in the waning days of his NHL career.

Fedorov finished his NHL career with the Washington Capitals who, at the time, were a run-and-gun, offensive juggernaut.  Fedorov brought veteran leadership and a calming presence to a group of exuberant, budding young super stars — particularly countrymen Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.  The team made the playoffs each of his three years with the club, but was never able to reach the Stanley Cup Final.

In 2009, with a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Fedorov’s NHL career came to an end.  The following year, Fedorov was at last going home, signing a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where he could fulfill his dream of playing alongside his younger brother Fedor.

In 20 NHL seasons Fedorov played for four different teams, skating in 1248 games, and amassing 483 goals and 1179 points.  He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion (1997, 1998, 2002).  He won the Selke Trophy twice (1994, 1996) and captured the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1994 and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1996.

Photographs:  Fedorov with Magnitogorsk by Tatiana Markina/The Hockey Goddesses; CSKA Ice Palace by Geneen Pipher/Hockey VIPs Magazine; Fedorov with Washington by Shannon Valerio/Hockey VIPs Magazine

 

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24 Apr 2012 Sergei Fedorov’s Next Big Move
Sergei Fedorov

Could Fedorov return CSKA to its former glory?

Reports out of Russia indicate former NHLer Sergei Fedorov will retire from competitive hockey and take over as general manager of the venerable CSKA Moscow hockey club.

Russia’s Sport-Express reports that “reliable sources” have Fedorov taking the helm of his old club as soon as May 1.

The once-dominant CSKA Moscow — the feared Red Army team to people of a certain age — has struggled in recent years. No longer the juggernaut it once was, the club is looking to regain some of its lost luster. The Sergei Fedorov brand is big in Russia and a CSKA homecoming would bring some much needed panache to Russian hockey’s grande dame.

In taking the position, Fedorov would unseat Sergei Nemchinov, another former NHLer and contemporary of Fedorov’s.

The newspaper speculates that the addition of Fedorov, along with the freshly inked — and vastly monied — corporate sponsor Rosneft, could enable the team to at last secure big name free agents “including even Alexander Radulov.”

Those hoping to see Fedorov in the GM’s seat might cool their jets a tad, as until a few weeks ago the Russian media had ex-NHLer Pavel Bure all but assured of the CSKA spot.

Fedorov left the NHL in 2009 to join Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where his brother Fedor was signed, saying he was helping fulfill his father’s dream of seeing his two sons on the same team. In 20 NHL seasons Fedorov played for four different teams (Detroit Red Wings, Anaheim Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals), skating in 1248 games, and amassing 483 goals and 1179 points. He is a three-time Stanley Cup champion (1997, 1998, 2002). He won the Selke Trophy twice (1994, 1996) and captured the Hart Memorial Trophy in 1994 and the Lester B. Pearson Award in 1996.

Photograph: Kontinental Hockey League



10 Oct 2011 What’s Up With Yashin? Slava Kozlov?
Alexei Yashin

Army man Yashin.

Cha-ching! Yashin Back in Moscow

After a brief fall flirtation with the New York Islanders, Alexei Yashin has joined CSKA Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League. The former NHLer spent a few weeks working out with his former club, prompting speculation he might rejoin the team. The magical reunion did not happen and he signed with the venerable Russian squad known as the Red Army team. Yashin is cashing in though, as remains on the Islanders payroll through the 2014-15 season.

Kozlov Reclaims Lucky Number

Slava Kozlov

Slava Kozlov suits up for Dynamo.

When Slava Kozlov signed up to play in the KHL, he seemed to have resigned his signature No. 13, opting instead for No. 72 — a number he donned in the days of the Soviet Union and during his first go-round with CSKA Moscow. He took this number again, wearing it once more for CSKA Moscow, whom he signed with at the end of the 2009-10 NHL season. What’s old is new again this season as Kozlov is once again donning No. 13, the number he made lucky during his 18 seasons in the NHL.

Photographs: Alexei Yashin from cska-hockey.ru; Vyacheslav Kozlov from dynamo.ru.

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07 Oct 2011 Stuggling to Find (NHL) Love Again
Jaromir Jagr

Can this man help heal a broken heart? Here's hoping!

It’s the start of the hockey season — normally a source of great excitement and joy in my family — but I am bereft. My team is gone, spirited away to a better place. A real hockey market — where people actually deserve it.

Right.

I can’t express how tiresome those sentiments have become. But before I spiral into despair over the loss of my Atlanta Thrashers, I thought I would attempt to compile a list of things that are keeping the gossamer thread of love for the NHL intact for me. You know, the kind of exercise completed by depressed people and Oprah disciples trying to force themselves to be more grateful. So here is my self-indulgent, things-that-keep-me-hanging on list…

1.) Fantasy Hockey
If it weren’t for my long-standing fantasy teams, I may have thrown up my hands in disgust and just gone back to being a college football fan like I (as a person living in the South) am expected to do. But I have built many good friendships through my involvement in fantasy hockey and am the commish of a 12-16 team all-girls league. Looking forward to helming my own virtual teams once again has helped me through the bleakest of bleak times.

2.) Boomer Gordon, on-air personality for Sirius/XM’s Home Ice channel
Oddly, I used to kind of dread hearing his voice. It’s not your typical “Hey! I’m a radio guy!” voice, and I used to think he sounded a little drunk on air, but over the five or six years I’ve been listening, he’s become a true favorite. He can be excessively harsh, but has always been fair about the Thrashers, where most people haven’t. Maybe it’s because he is an Islanders fan. No matter, his show has been the one hockey program I could bear to listen to this summer.

3.) Jaromir Jagr
Thank you Jags for returning to the NHL! The anticipation of seeing one of my longstanding favorites has given me something to look forward to, now that I have no team to call my own.

4.) The KHL
I know it sounds crazy, but bear with me. Regular readers know that Sasha and I are Russophiles. We’ve been studying Russian and have traveled to Moscow several times now to watch hockey and raise some hell. My all-time favorite player (anyone care to name him?) is still playing over there, and I try to follow his career from afar. Being able to still be interested in hockey (any hockey!), I think, will help me pull out of this funk so I can one day love again.

5.) Anger
Now that my team has been stolen away, I have powerfully negative feelings toward certain players who dissed Atlanta and, of course, the team I used to love. Hate is the other side of love after all. And just maybe looking forward to cheering against a team will help heal my broken heart.

I’d love to hear from other Thrashers fans — how are you coping with the loss of the team? What keeps you hanging on?

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13 Sep 2011 Ex-NHLer Yan Stastny Leaves KHL Squad

Yan Stastny

Yan Stastny

Former NHLer Yan Stastny has parted ways with his Kontinental Hockey League team. He joined CSKA Moscow — Russia’s most celebrated hockey club — in 2010, signing a two-year pact.

The CSKA press service reports Stastny and the team severed ties by “mutual agreement.” Last season, Stastny appeared in 49 games, scoring 12 points.

Photograph: From KHL.com.

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08 Sep 2011 Don’t Tell the KHL How to Mourn

Mourners place flowers at a makeshift memorial to the crash victims.

Mourners place flowers at a makeshift memorial to the victims of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster.

It’s been a bit slow around hockeygoddesses.com lately, but we’ve been busy readying an exciting new project, which will be launching shortly. However, today I come to discuss some dismal news: The horrible crash that took the lives of all but one member of the KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team.

The loss of these players has been especially tough for this goddess, for I consider Russia to be my home away from home.  I can only imagine what people in that country are going through right now.

Since the incident, I have been following news reports and listening to some of my favorite shows on XM Radio’s Home Ice channel.  Personally, I am a bit shocked and disturbed at what I am hearing.

Let’s put the cause aside.  Everyone knows the situation with Russian aviation and the more recent advent of charter flying.  Pointing fingers, surprisingly and thankfully, hasn’t been a focal point.

However, it is the reaction and presumption about what should happen next that is troublesome.  As of yesterday, it was suggested that the team would rebuild and play this season.  Some of the hockey gurus at XM/Home Ice spent the day discussing this, proclaiming that this simply was not “right.”

Oh how easy it is to sit in your comfortable radio studio in North America and say what some other business in some other country should do.  And yes, I realize that’s why these “gurus” get paid.  Still, when a country has experienced a tragedy, it takes a lot of naïve audacity to make a moral judgment on how an entire country should mourn.  Do they know the history of Yaroslavl?  Have they ever been there?  Do they understand what this venerable team means to the community?  To the league?  To Russia?  What about the morale of the people?  What do they need to heal?

At the risk of sounding callous, let’s put people’s feelings aside.  Life is hard in many parts of Russia. People struggle.  Jobs are scarce.  What happens if an entire organization suspends operations, even for a year?  Many people in Yaroslavl earn a living through the operation of the team and the venue.  The local economy depends on the team, and the people who earn money from the organization.  Take that away and you take away people’s livelihoods; people with families to support, people who are already struggling.

The people of Yaroslavl, like all of Russia, have faced many tragedies that have taken many lives, from the seemingly endless wars to the gulags to modern terrorism within their own borders.  Their spirit — more often than not — tells them to mourn those that are lost and move forward.  They have no choice.  And it’s not for us to judge.

Photograph: From The Associated Press via DayLife.



07 Sep 2011 KHL Air Tragedy: ‘This City Breathes Hockey’

[Editor's note: Our KHL correspondent based in Russia checks in with some thoughts on the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl tragedy.]

The 2011-12 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl squad poses for a picture in August.

The 2011-12 Lokomotiv squad poses for a picture in August.

It was one the best teams in Russia. It was one of the most respected teams in Russia. It was team number one in Yaroslavl. This city breathes hockey. I have been there three times to see Lokomotiv play, it was unforgettable. I wanted to go there this season. I can’t imagine why an elite professional team would fly on a really prehistoric airplane. What a horrible tragedy.

As far as I’ve learned, no one survived. We have lost some of the best players of Russia and Europe, as well as the Canadian coach Brad McCrimmon. I cannot believe that.

All my prayers to friends and families. RIP Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, you will always be remembered.

Pre-season video

Russian media from the place of tragedy

Photograph: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team picture from the KHL.

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30 Jul 2011 Alexei Kovalev Heads Home
Alex Kovalev

Alex Kovalev

38-year-old forward Alex Kovalev returns to Russia after 18 seasons in the NHL. He has signed a two-year contract with the Gagarin Cup finalist “Atlant”. As Canadian press marks, it’s not surprising, because Kovalev, who signed a $10-million contract with the Senators in 2009, never came close to fulfilling expectations. Nevertheless, Alex was a real star in the NHL – during his long career he scored 428 goals and 596 assists in 1,302 regular season games and had another 45 goals and 55 assists in 123 playoff games.

CEO “Atlant” Andrew Ropes said he had called Alex, as soon as he learned about his intention to return to Russia. “The conversation went very businesslike. I immediately outlined his role in our young and ambitious team, which desperately needed leaders – experienced and respected players. He knew right away I became interested. He was attracted by the figure of a new head coach “Atlant” Gustafsson”, – marked Ropes.

He added that Alex would join his new team in the coming days. “He himself can not wait to begin preparations for the season”, – said Ropes (according to “Atlant” official web-site).

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17 Apr 2011 …and Gagarin Cup goes to Salavat Yulaev

Salavat Yulaev and their Gagarin Cup

Salavat Yulaev and their Gagarin Cup

The 2011 winner of Gagarin Cup is Salavat Yulaev from Ufa. They managed to finish the final series against Atlant (Mytischi — a suprising finalist, as no one expected they would play in the final) in five games. The head coaches of Salavat are from Russia’s national team: Vyacheslav Bykov and Igor Zakharkin. So I suppose quite a few of the champions will be present at the coming IIHF Worlds in Slovakia. Some fantastic photos can be found here — at one of the best Russian sports photographers: http://vladimir-pesnya.livejournal.com/644925.html

Here are some videos after the final game. The players share their joy and happiness, I think these are always the best moments of any big victory!

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06 Feb 2011 Slava Kozlov Joins New Team for Playoff Push
slava kozlov in Salavat colors

Slava Kozlov will chase the Gagarin Cup with a new team.

Former NHL star and current KHL player, Slava Kozlov, has changed his club right before the playoffs. His former team — CSKA Moscow — is having a poor season and the move enables him to continue his career on a more successful team. Kozlov has joined Salavat Yulaev — one of the strongest clubs in the KHL. The team’s coach, Slava Bykov, is a former player and a current manager of Russia’s national team.

On Salavat Yulaev Ufa, Slava joins several other former NHLers including Viktor Kozlov, Dmitri Kalinin and Alexander Radulov. According to the official Salavat site, Slava will wear No. 32.

The player himself commented his transfer, saying that his new colleagues were masters and it was pleasant to be with them on one team. Let’s see now how far Salavat will go through the playoffs.

Photo: Vyacheslav Kozlov from Salavat Yulaev’s official website.

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05 Feb 2011 KHL All Star Game: Jagr beats Yashin. Again!
KHL All Star game 2011

Jagr team vs Yashin team

KHL All Star Game 2011 took place in Saint-Petersburg. As usual, teams were divided under Jaromir Jagr and Alexei Yashin’s names. The show started with skills competitions, which was quite fun. Here’s the full list of winners according to the KHL official website.

Yashin 4-3 Jagr

Superskills competition

TEAM YASHIN 4
TEAM JAGR     3

Fastest skater
Team Yashin: Lauris Darzins, Leo Komarov, Maxim Afinogenov – 13.96 sec.
Team Jagr: Lukas Kaspar, Roman Cervenka, Evgeny Kuznetsov
1-0

Longest shot
Team Yashin: Denis Grebeshkov, Sandis Ozolins, Jozef Vasicek
Team Jagr: Janne Niskala, Konstantin Korneyev, Martin Skoula
1-1

Puck control relay
Team Yashin: Sergei Mozyakin, Maxim Sushinsky, Jozef Vasicek, Alexander Guskov, Matthias Weinhandl
Team Jagr: Lukas Kaspar, Patrick Thoresen, Alexei Morozov, Janne Niskala, Alexander Radulov
2-1

Shooting accuracy
Team Yashin: Sandis Ozolins, Chris Simon – 5 shots on 4 targets, Alexei Yashin
Team Jagr: Kevin Dallman, Sergei Fedorov, Jaromir Jagr
3-1

Hardest shot
Team Yashin: Maxim Solovyev, Alexander Guskov, Karel Rachunek
Team Jagr: Konstantin Korneyev, Ilya Nikulin, Denis Kulyash – 177.58 km/h
3-2

Shootout
Team Yashin: Sergei Mozyakin, Maxim Sushinsky and Matthias Weinhandl vs. Stefan Liv
Team Jagr: Roman Cervenka, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alexander Radulov vs. Dominik Hasek
3-3

Fastest skater team relay
Team Yashin: Konstantin Barulin, Denis Grebeshkov, Peter Podhradsky, Leo Komarov, Lauris Darzins, Maxim Afinogenov
Team Jagr: Mikhail Biryukov, Konstantin Korneyev, Kevin Dallman, Petri Kontiola, Lukas Kaspar, Alexei Morozov
4-3

The most awesome moment to my opinion was Evgeny Kuznetsov shootout with Hasek. BTW, Evgeny asks everyone to call him “Kuzya” :)

KHL All Star Game 2011 Evgeny Kuznetsov Breakaway Challenge Winner

KHL All Star Game 2011 Shots competition

KHL All Star Game 2011 Hardest Shot 110.3 mph Denis Kulyash

The game itself was rather fun, too. It ended with a new record 18:16, and Jagr once again beat Yashin. Here’re the highlights.

KHL All Star Game 2011 highlights

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06 Jan 2011 World Junior Champions: Russian Royalty

Members of Team Russia celebrate a goal during the gold-medal game against Canada.

Members of Team Russia celebrate a goal during the gold-medal game against Canada in the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships.

I just wanted to send out a genuine congratulations to Team Russia for winning the 2011 World Junior Hockey Championships.  If Team USA couldn’t win it, then Russia was my second pick.  As I discussed in my article about the future of Russian hockey, these kids have all the talent in the world and they showed that with the necessary drive to win a championship, the sky is the limit.

For those that didn’t get a chance to see it, Igor Bobkov came in and turned the game around after Russia got down 3-0.  He was simply amazing.  Vladimir Tarasenko gets the MVP in my eyes for being knocked out cold and barely able to get off the ice, even with the help of two trainers, yet somehow returning for the third period and leading his team to victory.  It also should be pointed out that the goddesses’ inaugural interviewee Maxim Kitsyn had an amazing tournament and will be moving to North America to play in the OHL this month.  We wish him the best of luck.

Of course, it the story wouldn’t be complete without some hooliganism from the Russian team.  Seems they got a bit drunk and unruly in their attempt to return home and were booted from their flight!  Kids these days.

Again, congrats Team Russia.  You earned it!

Photo: Team Russia from Reuters.

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30 Dec 2010 Where Have All the Russians Gone?

Igor Bobkov is the lone member of the Russian Junior team this year with North American experience.

It’s that time of year — no, not the holidays, although that certainly has taken up most people’s resources lately.  It’s time for the World Junior Championships.  Unable to attend this year (the goddesses trip to Moscow is less than a month away) I’m relegated to watching this exciting event on TV.  As usual, however, I watch the Russian team with great interest.

The Russians have chosen an interesting approach this year.  Rather than select players with North American experience in the CHL or NHL, they have gone with an entire line-up (save for goalie Igor Bobkov of the OHL) of home grown players from the KHL or Russian junior league.  While this has allowed them to choose exceptional players such as Maxim Kitsyn and Vladamir Terasenko, it has also excluded talents such as 2011 draft prospect Vladislav Namestinkov and Washington Capitals prospect Stanislav Galiev.

What does any of this mean?   One could certainly say not much, as defense appears to be their weakness.  The physical play is certainly good — much better than we’ve seen from Russian players in the past and these kids are really working hard on the forecheck.  Yet the defense has been guilty of making poor decisions at inopportune times and has been unable to contain some good forechecking teams.

While the Russians as a team are still one of the more feared rivals of the Canadians and Americans, the TSN announcers pointed out that the number of Russians in the NHL are less than half of what they were in 2003 and, according to Pierre McGuire, those that are aren’t “as good.”  The insinuation is that despite the lure of the KHL, Russians just aren’t good enough to make the NHL anymore.

Clearly, this is a case of xenophobia by Mr. McGuire.  First, let’s look at the players that aren’t “as good” as the Russians of the 90′s and early 21st century.  Ovechkin?  Datsuyk?  Malkin?   Really, Pierre?  I doubt anyone would say these players are less talented than Fedorov, Bure and Mogilny.    Last year, there were 3 Russians in the top 20 in points and 3 in the top 7 in goals.  Ovechkin won the Hart trophy (league MVP) an unprecedented 2 years in a row in ’08 and ‘09 and Pavel Datsyuk has taken 5 of the leagues top honors at the awards ceremony in the past 3 years.

So, let’s dismiss the premise that the Russians aren’t as talented anymore.  Then why aren’t Russian players choosing to play for the best league in the world?  Is it because of the advent of the KHL?  Perhaps.  Yet everyone by now has heard of the financial troubles teams are having.  Playing for certain teams is a risk:  You may or may not get your monthly paycheck.

I think one has to look deeper into the culture and socio-political history of Russia for the answer.  While hardly a first world country, communism is no longer a reality.  Before, players were lured by the opportunity of fame and fortune that North America could present them.  After the initial breakup of the Soviet Union, the streets were filled with virtual chaos and North America still provided a safe and stable alternative for talented hockey players.

Now?  Things are different.  Hockey players make decent salaries in a land of the have and have-nots.

Nikita Filatov chose to play in the KHL last year rather than the Blue Jacket's AHL affiliate.

In a cash based economy, the hockey players are certain part of the “haves.”  One can live a relatively luxurious existence without having to leave home.  Russian’s, after all, are just at ethnocentric as anyone else, despite what many consider an inferior standard of living in their country.  Most importantly, however, I feel the reason the kids aren’t coming to play is something that is universal with that generation — they can play in the KHL and not really have to try.

Yep, I’ve said it. The culture of entitlement reigns supreme in the under 30 crowd these days, regardless of ethnicity and country of origin.  They want it all without having to work for it.  The Russians of old must cringe at the lack of work ethic in many of these players.  This seems to permeate through the ranks of the KHL and the youth see no reason to try too hard to make the NHL.  Things get tough and you get sent down to the AHL?  No problem (a favorite saying among Russians.)  Just come back to the KHL and work half as hard for more money. Although there is clearly a large amount of talent in the league, there is almost no hitting and you won’t have to risk too much night in and night out.  What is the incentive to play for the best hockey league in the world when you may have to work hard in the minors for a few years to get there?  You can have it now in the KHL!  There are just enough NHL veterans and old school Russians with the talent there to keep the league afloat as a legitimate threat.

So, as I watch this talented group of under-20 Russians skate their hearts out up and down the ice I wonder where the breakdown is.  When do they decide to take the easy way out?  And will the Russian program eventually collapse, leaving the KHL without the experienced veterans and hard working youth, going back to a second rate European league with little sponsorship and support.  The Russian Hockey federation definitely has a challenge on their hands and only time will tell if they can maintain their position as one of the top hockey countries in the world.

Photos: Igor Bobkov by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.  Nikita Filatov by Goddess Sasha, Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved.



13 Dec 2010 KHL: Evgeni Nabokov Released by SKA
Evgeni Nabokov of SKA during Atlant - SKA game in the KHL (c) thorkhild

Evgeni Nabokov of SKA during Atlant - SKA game in the KHL (c) thorkhild

One of the most famous Russian goalies Evgeni Nabokov has been released by his new team — SKA from Saint-Petersburg. On its official page the club informs that it happened because of “family circumstances,” but there are rumors that it was because of rather poor Nabby’s performance.

Evgeni’s agent Sergei Isakov gave an interview to Sovsport.Ru, in which he gave his version of what had happened. “Nothing special took place. Zhenya just had some unpredictable family circumstances. He phoned me on Sunday, and on Monday morning I came to Saint-Petersburg to talk to SKA leaders. Nabokov asked to break his 4-year contract. He had to do this because of the family. He has to fly to the North America. I will not tell you about what had happened in the family of my client,” Isakov said.

Nabby’s agent stressed that Evgeni was not going to end his career as he is still demanded both in the NHL and in Russia.

Photo: Evgeni Nabokov by Goddess Thorkhild. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

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19 Nov 2010 Semin + Caps = Good Sense
Alexander Semin - rookie

Semin at training camp in 2003.

As a longtime Washington Capitals fan, I’ve had the sometimes rough duty of sticking up for a certain player (Alexander Semin) who, incidentally, was the main reason I became a Caps fan back in 2003. My first Capitals game on the 12th of November 2003 gave me my first glimpse of him. I fell in love with his playing style immediately. His stick-handling skills were enchanting and, to this day, he still makes my jaw drop at some of the dekes he can pull rushing up the ice. His lone goal in the 7-1 shellacking of the Carolina Hurricanes during my inaugural game was a sneaky little deke around a veteran defenseman and a total undressing of the goalie. (Check it out for yourself.)

Semin joined the team at one of the most trying times for the Capitals organization. That year the team was dismantled at the trade deadline. Fans bid farewell to iconic winger Peter Bondra, as well as Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, and the man fans love to hate: Jaromir Jagr. At the end of the 2003-04 season, majority owner Ted Leonsis declared the team was going to rebuild from within. He started later that summer by selecting Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

By all accounts, Semin’s rookie season was anything but pleasant. Rumored dissension inside the Caps locker room did not create a healthy atmosphere for the young Russian, who was still trying to adjust to life in North America. And, his lack of English skills created a natural barrier between him and most of the team. Semin missed the final game of the regular season, oversleeping and missing the team flight out of Washington. When the season ended, he was sent to Portland, Maine to play for the Capitals’ American Hockey League farm team, the Pirates, to help with their unsuccessful Calder Cup run. Semin ended the season with 10 goals and 22 points in 52 games, playing mostly on the third and fourth lines.

Semin plays for Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League.

The following season, the NHL lockout forced Semin to find work elsewhere. He signed a one-year deal with Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League, opting not to report to the Hershey Bears (the Capitals’ new AHL affiliate). The Capitals subsequently suspended his contract for failing to report to Hershey. He finished the season Togliatti.

When the NHL labor dispute ended and the 2005-06 season was on the horizon, Semin was expected to return to the Capitals for the final year of his entry-level contract. However, Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler, were sued by the Capitals for more contract violations after he signed a 1-year extension with Lada. Gandler managed to have the suit nullified by claiming Semin’s contract with Lada was satisfying his two-year military obligation to the Russian Federation.

Whether it really was Russian military obligations or something else is unclear, but Lada gave him numerous incentives to stay. He was given a car, an apartment and a $2 million (USD) contract to play for the team. At just 21 years old, $2 million was much more than the chump change the Capitals were offering, and for that reason alone, I can’t blame him for wanting to stay in Russia where he also didn’t have to deal with a struggling team and language barrier.

Semin’s decision ultimately backfired as he fell victim to the unstable system in which the RSL governed itself by before the league revamped in 2007. Semin was let go by Lada a month into the season as the team salary was cut by 50 percent. The team avoided folding altogether by letting go of multiple players and loaning some out to other RSL teams.

Semin (in gold and blue) skates with Khimik.

At that time, Semin’s was the highest contract on the Lada roster. He was the first to be let go along with his car, apartment and contract. He didn’t stay unemployed for long as he signed with Khimik Mytischi, taking a pay cut. He finished the season with Khimik only notching 3 goals and 10 points in 26 games.

At the conclusion of his two-year stint back in Russia, Semin managed to mend fences with Capitals management and returned to Washington for the 2006-07 season, signing a 2-year deal.

Semin may have returned to Washington ready to get his NHL career back on track, but much of the Capitals’ fan base and media were more than a little annoyed by his antics. Critics saw Semin’s “military obligations” as a farce and Semin faced a backlash from fans who felt they had been spurned. He was labeled as the stereotypical “Mother Russia” player from then on out. His actions prior to rejoining the team reduced his popularity among the core Caps fans and heavily tarnished his reputation.  To this day he is still seen by many fans as a ticking (two-time) Russian defector.

Semin did his best to let his play do the talking where his still limited English could not. He amassed 38 goals and 73 points in the 2006-07 season. While his efforts were a step in the right direction, his reputation among fans was still fairly dismal. He was routinely criticized for his lazy style of play and his tendency to take costly penalties.

In 2007-08, Semin only notched 26 goals and 42 points in an injury-plagued year. The 2008-09 season saw Semin struggle yet again with injuries, but he finished with a career-high 79 points and a dramatic improvement in the plus/minus column at +25.

Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin

Semin and Alexander Ovechkin seem ready to take over the NHL -- one city at a time.

In 2009-10, Semin showed he was beginning to mature as a player, scoring a career-high 40 goals. Management took notice of Semin’s improved play and signed him to a 1-year contract extension that will expire when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010-11 season.

Most of the ill will from his controversial return to the Capitals has dissipated, but his faults in the eyes of fans have shifted to his poor performance in the playoffs. Much of the anger stems from the playoff embarrassment the Capitals suffered against the Montreal Canadiens last April. Semin ended the series scoreless, though he pounded 40 shots on goal. His lack of desire to talk to the North American media and his insistence on not saying three words in English (at least publicly), add fuel to the arguments of those who want Semin out of D.C.

Now we find ourselves nearly a quarter of the way into the 2010-11 season, and Semin is atop leaderboard, outplaying his fellow Russian teammate, Alex Ovechkin. He has already scored two hat tricks this season and shows no sign of letting up. This is, after all, a contract year for Semin and while his out-of-this-world play is beyond entertaining for Caps fans to watch, it is bittersweet. With his elevated level of play, will come elevated salary expectations — expectations the Capitals simply cannot afford with the current roster and the possibility of a lower salary cap.

In a recent interview with Russia’s Sport Express, Semin made a simple statement on his future in Washington that might put to rest the argument among Caps fans on Semin’s agenda:

“I don’t agree that Washington can not afford me. If I want to play here, we’ll resolve it.”

Alexander Semin

Semin shows off his signature style.

Since day one, I have said this kid could be the best player in the league if he gave half the effort most forth-line grinders give game-in and game-out. His pure talent, world-class stickhandling skills, pinpoint accuracy and superb skating, would put him among the top five players in the league should he stay healthy. He is a unique combination of smooth skating and raw, unrivaled skill that transforms NHL players into legends.

The fans who cheer for him, love him for his dazzling performances on the ice, as well as his flamboyant off-ice personality. We look forward to his zany, trademark facial expressions. We love to see what sort of remarkable outfit he’ll throw together (we can assume these wild designer looks cost him thousands of dollars, yet they also make us wonder if he got dressed in the dark or in the wrong house). Whether he’s streaking across the ice or cruising down the road in one of his many ultra-expensive sports cars, we can’t help but take notice of him.

Perhaps this season will finally put an end to the disagreement about Semin among Capitals fans, as we all fall in love with the quirky Russian.

Here’s my bold prediction.

Semin is in the best shape of his life and is entering the prime of his career. He will reach the 45 goal plateau and, if he stays on his current pace, will break 50. I expect him to sign with the Capitals for $6.5-$7 million a season for at least five years. If we are lucky and Semin truly wants to stay and play alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for the remainder of their decade-long contracts, he may take a hometown discount and sign for $6 million a season for a longer contract.

Bottom line: I don’t see Semin leaving the Capitals. Period.

Photos: Alexander Semin rookie year, and Semin and Alex Ovechkin from Getty Images; Semin with Lada Togliatti from The Associated Press; Semin with Khimik from the team’s official team site; Semin portrait by Kyle Christy Photgraphy.

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