As James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail tweeted early Tuesday, the KHL is under financial strain. With the price of oil dropping, the ongoing sanctions against Russia over Ukraine, and the subsequent drop in the Russian economy and value of the ruble, the economics of the league have changed.
Mirtle reported that three KHL teams haven’t paid their players this season and may fold, and that a number of coaches haven’t been paid. He guesses the three teams are Atlant Mytishchi, Slovan Bratislava, and Dinamo Riga, and writes that “roughly one-third of the KHL has serious problems.” That would be eight of the 24 teams.
He goes on to state that “a lot of teams are having payroll issues with players, too.”
Based on reports by Finnish broadcaster YLE, other clubs in financial difficulties include Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, Barys Astana and Sochi.
YLE in October conducted a survey of Finnish players and coaches playing in the KHL this season. From the survey results, YLE concluded that up to eight teams have had difficulties paying salaries on time. According to YLE, Barys Astana was at least one month behind in salary payments, Sochi was having difficulties paying players, and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod was "several months" late with player payments.
One Finnish player with Torpedo said, "I can't deny that I've wondered if I'll ever get all the money I'm due from the club."
Another player said, "At many clubs, money isn't paid on time. Players are badly informed about when salaries are paid. Sometimes, they're paid with the proceeds from three or four home games in a row."
YLE also reported that the Russian state energy corporation Gazprom, a key sponsor for many clubs and the league itself, has missed some scheduled sponsorship payments. This has left a total deficit league-wide running into the tens of millions of euros.
Other Russian media sources report that Atlant may begin selling players in January if finances don’t improve. This is the second season of financial woes for Atlant. In March, five players were declared free agents by the KHL for non-payment of wages.
Finnish media reports indicate that Petri Matikainen, head coach of Slovan Bratislava, has not been paid at all this season.
On Monday, Slovan Bratislava played Jokerit in Helsinki. Helsinki newspaper Iltalehti reported that Matikainen hasn’t received any pay this season and neither have any Slovan players. Matikainen refused to comment on the salary situation but said, "We have had economic problems."
Three players for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk have refused to practise or play games because they haven’t been paid. The three -- goaltender Ville Kolppanen (Lethbridge, 2009-10) and forwards Dan Sexton and Tim Stapleton -- have refused to practice and didn’t play in games Friday or Sunday. The club announced that they didn’t play due to injury.
Dinamo Riga applied for but was refused funding from the Latvian government last summer, despite a plea from Russian Hockey Federation president Vladislav Tretiak. The Latvian Ministry of Education and Science said that the Law on Sport doesn’t allow distribution of funds from the state budget to professional sports clubs. The club decided to continue in the KHL this season anyway.
Salavat Yuleav Ufa in late October wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin asking for his help in saving the charity organization Ural, the club’s main sponsor. The charity has had its bank accounts frozen as a result of a government investigation. It is unclear from the article whether the focus of the investigation is the bank holding the funds or the charity itself.
A Salavat Yulaev player confirmed at the end of October that they have been paid.
Moscow Regional Sports Minister Roman Teryushkov told the radio station Sport FM that he hopes Vityaz Podolsk will be able the finish this season and that a decision on its future will be made after the season is completed. He ruled out a merger of Vityaz and Atlant.
KHL Chairman of the Board Gennadi Timchenko noted in October that the league is helping Vityaz, Atlant and Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod.
Vityaz president Mikael Golovkov called Tuesday for a reduction of the KHL salary cap for next season from 1.1 billion rubles to 800 million rubles with no exceptions, as part of a move to eventually reduce the cap to 500-600 million rubles. Currently, the 1.1 billion rubble cap is a soft cap with a 20 per cent luxury tax for exceeding it, and four players are exempt from the cap: Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Radulov, Sergei Kostitsyn and Alexander Burmistov. In June, when the KHL set its salary cap, 1.1 billion rubles was US$32 million. Today? $15.9 million.
THE HURRICANES REPORT:Pat Siedlecki, the former radio voice of the Lethbridge Hurricanes who is the corporate news director at Clear Sky Radio, interviewed WHL commissioner Ron Robison on Tuesday morning.
Siedlecki then tweeted some highlights . . .
“(Robison) says he had a very candid chat with the Board last week about the state of Lethbridge Hurricanes.”
“Robison says both the Board and the league share the same frustration the Hurricanes aren't seeing the results they would like to see.”
Robison also tells me the WHL has been monitoring the Canes situation closely, especially the financial side of things.
Ron Robison says “there's new private ownership in Regina & PG and that type of model would work well in Lethbridge in our view."
Robison says he would like to see discussion with Canes shareholders on a possible sale of the team to take place "sooner than later."
Robison says the WHL's position is that having shareholders vote on this issue at the next AGM in September doesn't serve much purpose.
Robison says he would hope to see this meeting with shareholders "moved up to sometime early in the new year."
Robison says Board has a chance to assess what they discussed, put some thoughts together and meet with shareholders as soon as possible.
(The complete interview is available on Siedlecki’s blog and is right here. There are some comments posted on Siedlecki’s blog, right after the Robison interview. The third comment is especially astute.)
Dylan Purcell of the Lethbridge Herald has his take on the Hurricanes right here, and it’s pretty much spot on. Give it a look.
D Michael Fora and D Patrik Maier of the Kamloops Blazers will be playing in the 2015 World Junior Championship. Both are in their first WHL season. Fora will play for his native Switzerland, while Maier will be with Slovakia. . . . Fora, who has gotten markedly better as this season has moved along, has 20 points, four of them goals, in 35 games with the Blazers, while Maier has six points, including three goals, in 33 games. . . . Fora didn’t play last night in Cranbrook and will miss tonight’s game in Medicine Hat, as well as four games after Christmas. . . . Maier will miss the first four post-Christmas games.
In an interesting Tuesday transaction, the Calgary Hitmen acquired the WHL rights to G Thatcher Demko from the Spokane Chiefs for conditional draft picks. . . . Guy Flaming (@TPS_Guy) tweeted that the conditional picks are a second-rounder in 2015 and a second- or third-rounder in 2016. . . . Demko, a 19-year-old from San Diego, is playing at Boston College and is likely to be the U.S. national junior team’s starting goaltender. He was selected by the Vancouver Canucks in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft. . . . This appears to be a simple roll of the dice by Calgary GM Mike Moore as there doesn’t seem to be any indication at this point that Demko is about to leave BC. . . . Moore told Calgary radio station The Fan 960 that “we don’t have any indication he’s coming to play for us. . . . This is still a longshot. we’re taking a flyer here, no doubt.” . . . The Hitmen have two goaltenders on their roster. Mack Shields is 15-8-1/2.74/.899 in 27 games; Evan Johnson is 4-3-2/2.79/.899 in 11 appearances.
The Portland Winterhawks are going to take a look at F Cody Glass after the Christmas break. Glass, a 15-year-old from Winnipeg, was the 19th overall selection in the WHL’s 2014 bantam draft. He is playing with the midget AAA Winnipeg Thrashers. Glass has 22 points, including six goals, in 21 games.
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TUESDAY’S GAMES:In Brandon, the Regina Pats overcame four two-goal deficits and beat the Wheat Kings 6-5 in OT. . . . F Connor Gay won it at 3:24 of extra time with his 15th goal of the season. . . . Brandon F Nolan Patrick gave his side a 5-3 lead with his 14th goal, on the PP, at 3:58 of the third. . . . Regina F Austin Wagner got that one back with his seventh goal, shorthanded, at 8:28. . . . Pats F Patrick D’Amico scored his 12th at 16:55, on the PP, to force OT. . . . Regina F Morgan Klimchuk, cut earlier in the week by Canada’s national junior team, scored his 10th goal and added two assists. . . . Pats F Braden Christoffer got No. 12 and also had two assists. . . . Brandon F Tim McGauley scored twice, giving him 22, as he ran his point streak to 12 games. . . . He’s got 14 goals and nine assists in that stretch. . . . Brandon was 3-for-5 on the PP; Regina was 2-for-5. . . . The Wheat Kings again were without F Jayce Hawryluk and F Jesse Gabrielle, both out with undisclosed injuries. . . . Prior to the game, the Pats recalled G Tyler Fuhr from the SJHL’s Estevan Bruins and he was on the bench in support of starter Daniel Wapple. . . . The Pats (20-11-1), who are at home to Lethbridge tonight, have won 15 of their last 18 games, including three in a row over Brandon. . . . The Wheat Kings (24-7-4), who lead the East Division by 11 points over Regina, are 3-0-2 in their last five. . . . Regina does hold three games in hand. . . .
In Moose Jaw, F Tyler Wong and D Kord Pankewicz each had three points as the Lethbridge Hurricanes ended a six-game losing streak with a 6-4 victory over the Warriors. . . . Wong scored twice, giving him 11 goals, while Pankewicz got his third. . . . Wong’s goals came at 14:23 and 16:35 of the first period, giving Lethbridge a 2-0 lead. The Warriors were never able to catch up. . . . F Tanner Eberle scored his 19th goal for the Warriors. . . . The Hurricanes were 2-for-9 on the PP; Moose Jaw was 0-for-3. . . . Lethbridge (7-20-5) went into the game having won once in 16 games. The Hurricanes are in Regina tonight. . . . The Warriors (15-16-3), who play in Prince Albert tonight, have lost two in a row. The Raiders are fifth in the East Division, two points behind the Warriors. . . . This was the second meeting of the season between the White brothers, F Torrin of the Warriors and F Jaeger of the Hurricanes. The season series is 1-1 so no one has bragging rights at the Christmas dinner table. . . . Matthew Gourlie of the Moose Jaw Times-Herald has a game story right here. . . .
In Edmonton, D Cole Martin had three assists to lead the Kelowna Rockets to a 4-1 victory over the Oil Kings. . . . The Rockets scored the game’s first two goals and the last two, while going 2-for-4 on the PP. . . . Kelowna F Tyson Baillie scored his 22nd goal on a third-period PP. . . . F Justin Kirkland had two assists for Kelowna. . . . Rockets F Gage Quinney got his eighth goal; it was his second in three games since coming over from the Prince Albert Raiders in a deal last week. . . . Kelowna G Jackson Whistle stopped 31 shots, six more than Edmonton’s Tristan Jarry. . . . The Rockets, who travel to Red Deer tonight, improved to 27-5-3. . . . The Oil Kings, who play in Calgary tonight, are 15-14-5. They have slipped to fifth in the Central Division, a point behind the Kootenay Ice. . . .
In Cranbrook, the Kootenay Ice scored three third-period goals to beat the Kamloops Blazers, 5-2. . . . F Collin Shirley scored twice, giving him 13, in the second period as the visitors took a 2-1 lead. . . . Ice F Jaedon Descheneau tied it with his 18th goal at 15:05 of the second. . . . Ice D Tyler King gave the Ice its first lead, with his fourth, at 8:02 and F Tim Bozon stretched it with his 13th goal at 8:55. . . . Shirley and Bozon switched teams in a trade early last season. . . . Descheneau hit the cross-bar on a first-period penalty shot. . . . Kootenay dressed 17 skaters, one under the maximum. . . . Ice G Wyatt Hoflin, who made his 23rd straight start, stopped 30 shots. . . . The Ice (18-17-0) has won three in a row. It also has won 15 of 19. . . . The Blazers slipped to 13-19-5 and fell back into the B.C. Division cellar, a point behind the Vancouver Giants, who hold three games in hand. . . . It’ll be four after tonight as the Blazers are in Medicine Hat, while the Giants are done until after Christmas. . . . Taylor Rocca of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman has a game story right here. . . .
In Vancouver, the Giants scored two first-period goals and held on for a 2-1 victory over the Everett Silvertips. . . . Vancouver got goals from F Tyler Benson, his seventh, at 8:12, and F Carter Popoff, his 15th, at 19:08. Popoff also had an assist. . . . F Nikita Scherbak got his 15th for Everett at 12:49 of the third. . . . Vancouver G Cody Porter stopped 24 shots. . . . The Giants (16-18-0) have won seven in a row. They are 6-0-0 under head coach Claude Noel. . . . Everett is 19-9-4. . . . The Silvertips, who lead the U.S. Division by one point over the idle Portland Winterhawks, return home to face Victoria tonight. . . .
In Prince George, the Spokane Chiefs took a 5-3 with three second-period goals and went on to beat the Cougars, 5-4. . . . F Kailer Yamamoto’s eighth goal, at 13:56 of the second period on a PP, stood up as the winner. . . . Prince George F Jansen Harkins had erased a 2-1 Spokane lead with two goals 24 seconds apart late in the first period. He’s got 11 goals. . . . Harkins also had two assists, while Brad Morrison scored twice, giving him 12, and added an assist. . . . Cougars F Aaron Macklin had two assists. . . . Spokane G Garret Hughson made 38 stops. . . . D Josh Anderson was among the Cougars’ scratches. He suffered a broken wrist on Friday in a game against the Everett Silvertips. . . . The Chiefs (17-12-3) have won three in a row. . . . The Cougars slipped to 17-17-0. . . . The teams meet again tonight in Prince George. . . .
In Kent, Wash., F Ryan Gropp broke a 4-4 tie at 17:27 of the third period to give the Seattle Thunderbirds a 5-4 victory over the Victoria Royals. . . . The Thunderbirds led this one 3-0 six minutes into the second period, only to have Victoria score the game’s next four goals. . . . Royals F Tyler Soy tied it at 3 with his eighth goal at 11:49 of the third and F Logan Fisher gave his guys the lead just eight seconds later with his fourth goal. . . . Soy and Fisher set a franchise record for fastest two goals. . . . Seattle F Donovan Neuls tied it at 16:15, setting the stage for Gropp to score his eighth goal of the season. . . . F Justin Hickman had a goal, his eighth, and two assists for Seattle. . . . Victoria got three assists from F Greg Chase, but he also took a spearing major and game misconduct at 19:42 of the third period. . . . Royals D Travis Brown had a goal, his 13th, and two assists. . . . Seattle was 2-for-5 on the PP; Victoria was 0-for-3. . . . Seattle (14-15-4) had lost its previous two games. . . . Victoria (17-17-2) has lost three in a row as it goes into Everett tonight.
.@LWillson_82 addressing team and giving the lineups to the team pic.twitter.com/68kfvByCNp
— Seattle Thunderbirds (@SeattleTbirds) December 17, 2014
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