2019/2020 KHL Season Preview

Previewing the 2019/2020 KHL season.
  1. SoundAndFury
    This year I will go alphabetically mostly because it will be more interesting to me that way rather than going top to bottom. As towards the bottom, I get sad and on the top, it's boring. This year especially, since most of the top teams just focused on keeping players which is very rare, really, in the KHL.

    I will also post at around 2 teams per day pace thus maybe leaving time for discussion about said team rather than overwhelming people a with ton of dodgy opinions.

    So here we go.

    Admiral Vladivostok - slightly improved

    The good:
    • compared to last year the team is well built from the start of the season which is a significant improvement over last year's mess. Few significant losses and the imports are all players worthy of playing in the KHL. Not only that, they are above average.
    • a bit of double-downing on the first point but the team composition is cost-effective and just makes sense. From goalie tandem, to first D pair, to the small moves like adding VHL superstar Lomako to the roster, those are all textbook moves that make perfect sense to any conventional mind. Remembering the situation last year it's quite shocking to write this about Admiral.
    • Sergei Svetlov isn't the most successful coach out there but he fit like a glove to last year's Admiral. He managed to finish above 4 teams with a roster which, seemingly, didn't belong in the KHL. Alas, it was a year of redemption to him and many of his players. Nice to see he gets more toys to play with this year. Hopefully, he can do even more having those.
    The bad:
    • it's tricky to evaluate Admiral's losses objectively but cold hard facts are out of 8 players who scored over 20 points last year 3 have left. Why is it tricky, you might ask? Well, those are Chernikov (28 pts, old and not very good), Butuzov (26 pts, still a no-name player and defensive liability) and Konkov (22 pts, great 3rd liner in its hay-day, super old now). So in a way, all of those are good riddance. They came, overachieved and got contracts with richer teams who are getting old players very likely to decline (Butuzov is an exception but he hasn't signed with anyone yet). So you can look at those as avoiding bad investments. But you need to replace their production. So sure, Ljungh and Bakos should be good for at least 60 points combined and are bigger names but the improvement of a forward group as a whole is very limited if barely there at all.
    • it probably applies to every small-budget team in the league but the depth just isn't there. Streltsov bros who were on their way out of the league a year ago are probably expected to score 20 points each which, to be fair, they managed last season but expecting players to play at their career-best level every year is a tactic which doesn't leave much room for error.
    • again, both previous points combine in for this but they need at least one top 6 forward to be at least somewhat competitive with mid-table teams. Maybe bring back Butuzov, that's still not out of the question, I think. But someone who would be money in the bank 25 point scorer, at least.
    Question marks:
    • Olkinuora is a gamble. This isn't a huge issue as they still have Krasotkin but if the Finn could play at .925, which some say he may, it would be a massive boost. But I think nobody has the answer how good is he going to be at the KHL level just yet.
    Prediction: the realistic goal is to not be last in the conference. In other words, be a better team than Amur. Playoffs would be close to a miracle.

    Ak Bars Kazan - stayed the same

    The good:
    • let's start from the obvious, goalie position is rock solid with 3 starting goalies. They have the guy who won them the cup, the SHL top goalie and the guy who has .93 career Sv% while playing for Yugra and Riga. I would be really sad if it meant Bilyalov has to spend a year in the VHL again, I hope they find a solution to this overload but hey, it's a good problem to have.
    • the defense got younger and faster. Andrei Markov was showing his age and Paul Postma, albeit great for his role, was never defensive stalwart. Adding Ozhiganov and Wikstrand changes a way the team can play. Although not a win in the name recognition department it should be an improvement on the ice.
    • there is a lot of good and bad to say about Kvartalnov but, as long as it's a regular season, his teams are nice to watch and he gets them skating like there's no tomorrow. With all due respect to Bilyaletdinov, his hockey isn't all that nice to watch and their regular season performance was often lackluster.
    • Justin Azevedo is a European hockey star and it's good Ak Bars managed to keep at least one of those.
    The bad:
    • I think the biggest change to a neutral fan is Frattin and Cormier in, Sekac and Lander out. And one of those pairs is better than the other. I understand it's the money, especially in Sekac's case, but it has to sting for a team as rich and ambitious as Ak Bars to downgrade to lesser versions of their players. Furthermore, carrying an import goalie means they will be icing 3 import forwards rather than 4 further depleting the group.
    • To roughly replace Klinkhammer Ak Bars brought in hometown boy Kiril Petrov which, I think, is pretty adequate but the rest of the forward group saw no significant improvements. A lot of stakes on Zaripov still producing, Tkachev and Galyiev scoring more than they did last season. They are good players but "improve from within" strategy isn't the easiest sell.
    • Although the defense should improve none of the Ds strike me as PP specialist or superb players offensively.
    Question marks, a whole lot:
    • the defense is going to be different but is it going to be better? Although I'm optimistic about it this group has very different strengths and weaknesses compared to last year's.
    • Patrice Cormier has 0.48 career PPG in the AHL and was 3rd in TOI amongst Barys' centers last year. It's interesting to see if Ak Bars board believe in his late development that much or are they going to push Azevedo back to the middle and drop Cormier down to 3rd line.
    • is this forward group, overall, good enough? From age concerns, to underachieving, to unproven players, it has it all. I don't mind, that makes it more interesting.
    • they have traded for Mikko Rantanen's rights and last I checked, he still has no contract... :sarcasm:
    Prediction: roughly same performance as last year and in the playoffs, who knows. But taking an educated guess they lack firepower to be a serious contender.

    Amur Khabarovsk - stayed the same

    The good:
    • unlike most years there has been very little change and the only unforeseen loss is Jan Kolar going home after 7 years in the league. I guess he has had enough of flying. But he was replaced by Vitasek who shares many of the same qualities including nationality (5 Czech imports again in Khabarovsk). The other big loss was Avangard taking back Pyanov but we all knew it was going to happen. Those aside, this is a proven roster with guys who are proven commodities.
    • it is expected some good young players (Rudenkov, Faizullin) have even more to give after their breakthrough season. Keeping consistent players like Ushenin bros is big but keeping guys who are potential *SKA material* for another year is even bigger.
    The bad:
    • the team finished with 49 points last year so how big of the win is to keep it the same? Surely it's a budget thing but since the money isn't there this team probably caps out at 60 points max.
    • the top line of Zohorna bros and Faizulin has to be the worst in the conference if not in the league.
    • 2nd line center spot which Pyanov (sort of) left open seems to be up for grabs to Golubev, Rasskazov, and Zhelezkov but they all have their issues. There are a lot of teams none of those would make a roster at all. But yeah, that's life, that's how hockey players from Omsk, Kazan, and Magnitogorsk end up in Khabarovsk.
    Question marks:
    • usually, Amur manages to get at least a couple of decent players from leftovers of the big teams. It's unlikely that would be some game-changer but who knows, there is still a slight chance the team improves significantly that way.
    Prediction: just like Admiral, a two-snail race. Not finishing last in the conference would be positive.

    Avangard Omsk - improved

    The good:
    • when the team which made the cup finals get better that's pretty impressive but Voynov and Andrighetto are legitimate NHL players and they picked Ava over others. That's big.
    • last year the team took it's final, dominant shape after Beck and Shumakov joined. They lead the team in scoring in the playoffs as well. Last year those 2 played only 38 regular-season games combined, well this year they are there for 124.
    • other than that elephant in the room called Ilya Mikheyev, the players that left pretty much all were just let go by Avangard. Mikhail Fisenko is the only whom I'd think they would have rather kept but it's a 4th-liner we are talking about here, hardly irreplaceable.
    • the collection of young players with great potential, which now includes Nikita Scherbak, is outstanding. Overall, depth is great.
    The bad:
    • Ilya Mikheyev is Toronto Maple Leaf (Marlie?). What else to say here. Unless Scherbak wows everyone from the get-go This loss is going to sting.
    • too many righties on defense. They have 5 bonafide top-4 RD in the league where some teams have none. I can't imagine they keep them all. If I were a KHL GM I would be working those phones to get me Yegor Martinov every day.
    • the goalie tandem isn't amazing for such a team. Arguably weakest of all the big boys. Maybe not. But not up there with the best of them.
    • 2nd line center spot needs to be filled. They have an import spot, they have plenty of contacts in the organization which could potentially attract pretty big fish. They are working on it, I assume.
    Question marks:
    • Not many. Great team, great coach. The only one is that 5th import slot and who do they get. And how much better it makes them. Since they haven't signed anyone yet I assume they are looking at the NHL.
    Prediction: Gagarin Cup contender and probably even better team in the regular season compared to last year

    Avtomobilist Yekaterinburg - slightly improved

    The good:
    • although SKA and CSKA were the poster boys for this Avto might be league's biggest hoarders. The sheer number of players they have is ridiculous. They did let up on forwards a little bit in the summer (7 KHL forwards left and only 5 arrived) cutting their F group size to the more or less sane number but on the D side, the only legitimate loss was Kirill Lyamin. They replaced him Maxim Berezin, Rafael Batyrshin and also got Michal Cajkovsky to help on PP putting their D total to absolutely ridiculous 9 bodies. And those are only vets, excluding the young guys like Vorobey or Valitov who would potentially be pushing for a first-team spot on another team. I don't know how productive it is to have 2 teams while icing 1 but hey, one thing for sure, Avto won't run out of players. Unless it's goalies but about that later.
    • at the price of letting Da Costa go, they managed to keep their biggest stars - Kovar, Sexton and Dawes. Furthermore, bring Datsyuk in and 2 more very solid imports.
    • deep team with a good coach and game-breakers on the roster. Seems like a bulletproof build.
    The bad:
    • the current backup goalie situation is gross :sarcasm: For those not in the know, unless Avto goes out there and sign someone like Murygin, currently the position is occupied by 21 y.o. Vladislav Gross who has 17 games of pro-league experience (all VHL). He also happens to be the son of Avto GM... Cheaping out on a backup is a great way to save some money especially since Jakub Kovar has been a workhorse of a goalie throughout his career. But if he breaks down... It might not be a pretty sight. Going into the season with, basically, an MHL goalie on the roster is something even the poorest teams don't do. Hopefully, they get someone but considering this is Russia and it's GM's son we are talking about they might not.
    • it seems like the older Gross did a rather good job by getting really good players but how to put them on the ice is for someone else to figure out. Left-wing seems to be a problematic position which will either force Golyshev to play LW thus ending his partnership with Dawes on the 1st line or push one of the big guns (Datsyuk?) down to the 3rd line. In any case, it's complicated. Furthermore, there will be many nights where the team has only 1 RHD.
    Question marks:
    • what will happen with the backup position?
    • Macek and Holland have been very good players throughout their career at the comparable level but until those former AHL point producers hit the KHL you don't quite know what you have. I think Macek is realistically a 2nd line talent which is perfectly fine since he's there to replace Pare (more or less) but Holland is a bit more of a mystery man. He always seemed like a guy who could thrive in Europe. But hey, so did David Desharnais, for example.
    • how much Datsyuk has left in the tank. Will he still be a force or just a fan attraction/overpaid 3rd line center.
    Prediction: the top of an Eastern conference got tougher and Avto won't win it with 9 point margin but they are still a great team which will fight for being at the top of the mountain.

    Barys Nur-Sultan - got slightly weaker

    The good:
    • Nikita Mikhailis is a top 6 forward on a fringe player's contract he signed in the summer of 2018. That allows Barys to distribute the money elsewhere hence making them a 3 lines deep team. With a healthy roster, they will have 2 imports playing on the 3rd line.
    • alongside Mikhailis, other young guys like Orekhov, Asetov, and Polokhov have room for improvement and will likely take another step forward.
    • although Cormier and Frattin left for Ak Bars I don't think many tears can be shed about those. I'd wagger Barys avoided bad investments by not matching Ak Bars' offer. And replacements for those seem very adequate.
    The bad:
    • two Kazakh hockey legends - Dallman and Bochenski - retired (can't even decide if the beginning of this sentence is sarcastic or not). Furthermore, Petersson left for greener pastures. All 3 of those are special players at the KHL level (albeit Dallman has declined quite significantly) and their replacements don't come close. Again, the emergence of Mikhailis remedies the problem somewhat but the wingers they brought in are all more or less straight line meat-and-potatoes power forwards rather than players with superb high-end skill.
    • unless there are some late additions Dallman's replacement seems to be giving Blacker and Orekhov bigger roles and bringing in VHL's best defenseman (that's the award, not my opinion) Leonid Metalnikov to fill in the bottom of a D group.
    • last season was a dream for Barys. Bochenski came back from retirement and was still great, Mikhailis, Dietz and even old man Starchenko blew all expectations away and had career years, imports were all hits no misses... Hell, even Henrik Karlsson had his statistically best season in goal, at the age of 35. Success (luck?) like that can only set you up for disappointment. Although, as I've mentioned, there are players with room to grow there are just as many that are likely to come back down to Earth.
    Question marks:
    • Barys have a habit of adding late. I wrote last year's preview a few weeks earlier and projected Barys to finish 6th-ish. Well, the joke was on me since they added Frattin, Boyd, and Svedberg afterward.
    • just like in Avto's case, it will take some time to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as AHL imports go.
    • figuring out how much Barys' performance will drop compared to last year's perfect storm isn't an exact science.
    Prediction: in addition to all listed concerns the battle in the East got way tougher this year so even though Barys remains in between the mid-table teams and the great powers of the conference beating as many of those as last year is extremely unlikely. Finishing 5th in the conference would be a great result.

    CSKA Moscow - slightly improved

    The good:
    • absolutely no significant losses to a championship-winning team. The guys who left (Hansen, Scott, Pashnin) weren't in the lineup for at least half of the games in the PO. If there are no injuries CSKA can ice the same lineup on the opening night as they did in the cup-clinching game.
    • they won't, however, as they have brought in Bogdan Kiselevich and Jiri Sekac. Needless to say, those are good players that strengthen the lineup.
    • this might be the last KHL season of their careers, who knows, but Sorokin and Kaprizov are still there alongside other guys who attract NHL interest like Andronov, Grigorenko or Svetlakov.
    • with the number of players and depth, CSKA have they could split their roster in half and have two teams that would make the playoffs.
    The bad:
    • a bit of a chicken and the egg situation but they had to give up Ozhiganov to get Sekac. Or had to move Ozhiganov for monetary reasons and were able to get Sekac for him. Or some other variant. In any case, in the perfect world, you want to have both of those guys on your roster. However, I'm fully aware the perfect world doesn't exist for numerous reasons.
    • winning the cup sure is a great way to quiet all those "who the hell hired this fizrook as a head coach" and "what kind of moron trades Kuzmenko for Kalinin" people. But if CSKA struggles they will reappear as their words are not completely without the merit.
    Question marks:
    • will CSKA be kind enough to spread the wealth a little bit and trade/loan/give away some players to lesser teams rather than playing guys like Karnaukhov or Tolchinsky in the VHL?
    • it's unlikely they do as there is no need whatsoever for it but they carried 6 imports on the roster last year, they might get the 6th one this year as well if they feel like it. But I think they would only do it if there is someone from complete fantasy world like big NHL RFA holding out and looking at Europe as an option. The way this summer is going combined with rumors some teams would just let their guys sit out for a year after Nylander's ordeal in that situation you start to wonder maybe it is somewhat a possibility. This is, however, a pretty massive sidetrack, isn't it?
    Prediction: this is the strongest CSKA KHL roster ever. They are the best team in the league. Within the conference, SKA will try to challenge but CSKA grip is too strong. The only way I see them not winning the regular season is if they loosen it themselves due to a heavy personnel rotation to give everyone minutes and keep them happy. Like some games last year (home loss against Amur, for example) where they would just scratch all their best players.

    Dinamo Minsk - from bad to worse

    The good:
    • well, you can't fault the imports they have brought in (Enroth, Gragnani, Stefan Elliott, Pare, Drew Shore). Most of those guys are very successful players who played for some of the best teams in Europe. The issue, in this case, is that they had really good imports last year as well and the season went very sour anyway so those 5-6 guys can only do so much.
    • Kostitsyn brothers are still really good players. Although Sergei seems to have fallen off the cliff pretty badly compared to his prime AK47 is still firing.
    • some Belarus' B-grade prospects like Yeryomenko, Martynov or Drozd might get a real chance to play at a high level so the team might provide some benefit to Belarussian hockey system.
    The bad:
    • so after the last season rhetoric of those in power in Minsk was "well, those players we had this year did bad so how about we give even worse players from the Belarus league the chance next season". Be it a good thing or a bad thing those were just words and most of the old gang, an over-the-hill filler which made up the basis of this team for years, is back again. This is bad as they are bad but at the same time, it might be even bigger disaster averted.
    • most of the good Belarussian players - Buinitsky, Khenkel, Lisovets - left. For very good teams as well as they are no longer considered imports.
    • There is no, and there cannot be an adequate replacement to the later 2 Belarussian Ds. Unless Minsk's brass decides on policy change and brings in more imports (if they have money for it, that is) there is virtually no substitute for them. Leaving D situation in dire straits. Enroth must be pretty crazy to be willing to come back to this team because he will get shelled. By far the worst, shallowest D core in the league.
    Prediction: I think in the East the bottom teams can at least somewhat hang in there for a while. In the West, however, Minsk and Severstal are at their very own level of bad. Just no saving grace for those 2 other than one of them won't be the last since there can't be 2 worst teams.

    Dinamo Riga - got weaker

    The good:
    • for the 2nd year in a row, the team isn't absolute trash. Few of the new imports (Marshall, Jacob Berglund) are gambles but others (Ashton, Ullstrom) are quite proven good players. The young Ds, especially Balinskis, have also reached the point where they don't cause many headaches and can be relied upon as opposed to not having other choices but to play them.
    • chances are, Ullstrom isn't going to do nearly as much as Videll did. None of the Ds will come close to Maione's 46 points, that's just a fact. These guys pulled out that amazing season out of their had. Quite optimistic expectations were that Videll will score 35 points, Maione 30... And they crushed those. Those guys aren't in Riga anymore so how dear I put this as "the good", right? This might just be wishful thinking but unlike in Barys' case, not everything went perfectly for Riga. Myttynen and Clark were ultimately disappointments (especially the later, the guy did lead SHL in goals before coming after all). So can Ashton, Berglund, and Ullstrom, as a group, outperform ~75 points scored by the guys they were brought in to replace? I certainly believe so. The situation is a bit direr on D but when you throw in Zanetti into the equation next to Maione using the same approach one might think it's not a complete abyss ahead.
    • I like a bit bolder choices bringing in Berglund and Marshall. Sure those guys are gambles but the team in Riga's position is forced to gamble. Bringing in guys who have proven to be meh at this level (like Myttynen) to be meh for another year doesn't do enough.
    • Ankipans has proven to be a quite competent coach which is a big plus for a team which isn't going to have an easy, flawless season.
    The bad:
    • if the other positions can be somewhat salvaged by this "by committee" approach there is one in hockey where the entire lineup is one man strong. And Riga's strong man was taken back by Ak Bars. Timur Bilyalov might not sound like much to a neutral fan but he has .93 career Sv% playing on the teams that were not so good. If the games played by him last year were trusted to Gudlevskis Riga would have allowed 21 more goals. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what kind of impact allowing 21 more goals would do to a team which missed the playoffs by one point. Gudlevskis has never had a truly good pro season in his career so some internal improvement is also highly unlikely.
    • Mikelis Redlihs is 35 and Lauris Darzins will turn 35 in January. The former is well past his prime and the slight further decline wouldn't be catastrophic but Lauris is still a force, year after year. Be it international tournaments or regular season, he still does it. If he were to start declining at the pace his predecessor Nizivijs did back in the day it would mean trouble. Big one.
    • out of all the Ds on the roster the only one who has ever scored at least 15 points at a similar level is Kristofer Berglund and the last time he did it was 10/11 season. So like I said, I will eat my hat if someone even comes close to Maione's production.
    Question marks:
    • Maxim Tretyak was sent packing once so there is a tiny chance it can happen again if Riga gets the real #1 goalie out of somewhere.
    • Berglund and Marshall can be revelations but they can also be disasters that don't belong at this level.
    Prediction: this is still a team that belongs to this league but the top-8 of the conference is just too good to overtake them. Furthermore, Torpedo joined. So even 9th place is a substantial challenge to this group.

    Dynamo Moscow - stayed the same

    The good:
    • Dynamo was a busy team in the offseason which was relatively quiet to most others. In the midst of this change, however, the best news that Dynamo fans got is that Shipachyov is staying. He is a very special player in this league whose streak of over PPG seasons is now at 5. I have no idea what SKA were thinking when they let him go but he is now a Dynamo Moscow player for 2 more years.
    • Maxim Afinogenov is going to be back. Even if he doesn't set the world on fire at the age of 40 having him in the lineup is certainly going to be better than paying a lot of money while he can't be in it.
    • the main problem last year was a secondary scoring - only 4 players scored over 20 points. For comparison, Admiral had 8, Amur - 7, Minsk - 5. Severstal - 1, abysmally. In any case, the situation was really bad, I will go out on a limb and after only loosely fact-checking say that's in the bottom 3 of the league. Not to mention they tried everything to remedy it with 26 (!!!) forwards suiting up for at least 1 game with the team. And having to try out 2 teams worth of players mid-season doesn't bring the best results. They definitely tried to address that, Krikunov talked all summer long how they are looking for 2nd line center and got Dmitrij Jaškin instead. Regardless of who will fill the 2C role (Polygalov? Indrasis? An Unknown mystery man?) Bryukvin and Alexeyev should play on the 3rd line which isn't bad at all considering there are guys who score close to 70 points per season on the 1st one.
    • Ivan Bocharov is a good goalie. The realization that Yeryomenko is nothing more than his backup at this point will help the team. I think until the 2nd half of last season people - coaches, fans, Yeryomenko himself - weren't quite sure what the situation is.
    The bad:
    • let's start with the obvious: Andre Petersson isn't Dmitry Kagarlitsky. I think Dynamo did a great job replacing Kagarlitsky and absolutely did get the right guy. I even think it's possible, if not likely, that Petersson on the line with Shipachyov outscores Kagarlitsky as he has all kinds of high-end skills. But when it comes to physical zeal and a two-way game he is no match. At the end of the day, they replaced the star with a very good player. Which isn't the end of the world but a downgrade nonetheless.
    • defense, overall, is a pretty good and deep group but the spots of Koivisto and Nikulin, rather competent players in the offensive zone, will now belong to guys whose point totals are usually in single digits. It is even more worrisome considering Krikunov is seemingly allergic to playing 4 forwards on the same PP unit so it's rather likely he will play, for example, Kirill Lyamin on the PP just like he did in Yekaterinburg.
    • I'm not saying Krikunov is a flat out bad coach but term "mediocre" is as much praise as I would be willing to give him.
    Question marks:
    • it's unclear who will center the 2nd line. The options are Polygalov (fine for Traktor or Neftekhimik but rather disappointing for a more ambitious team), some crazy-ish experiment (Indrasis at center like in Latvian NT?) or bringing in another player.
    Prediction: the battle for the 3rd place in the conference is going to be interesting but Dynamo finishing as low as 5th shouldn't be considered underachievement. I can't see them dropping below that unless Shipachyov suffers some long term injury.

    Sochi - got a lot worse

    The good:
    • Sergei Zubov has shown he can do quite well without having a whole lot and having him inspires at least some confidence this team isn't going to sink.
    • having competent top-6 centers separates Sochi from quite a few KHL teams. Although Sean Collins underachieved a bit last few seasons he would still be the first-line center on most of the teams at a similar level. The caveat here is that I'm not talking about the team which is aiming for the 6th place in the conference but about the team which will have to fight with teeth and nails to get into the playoffs. But about that in the following paragraph.
    The bad:
    • man for man, Sochi downgraded in almost every case, in every position. Unproven players and over the hill veterans was basically all that Sochi brought in. The only substitute which didn't look too bad at first glance is Ilya Krikunov coming back to the team which revived his career to replace Bocharov. But then you realize he is 35 and it's just a gamble wishing for the best just like all the other moves.
    • let's take a deeper look to every position. So in goal, Barulin left which is fair enough, Dmitri Shikin played just as well last year and is likely almost 2 times cheaper as Barulin has been known to carry a hefty price tag throughout his career. However, this is going to be the 1st season for Shikin in a truly #1 role. In case he struggles, his backup is Ilya Proskuryakov who was pretty bad in 17/18 for Yugra, absolutely terrible last year in Krefeld and here he is now. I firmly believe they would have been better off with Kochetkov in this role but when overlords from the north call you can't refuse them. It's not quite clear where Barulin's salary savings or money for Kochetkov went but that place doesn't appear to be Sochi's roster construction.
    • Auvitu was a dud last year but Paigin did really well as his replacement. So out comes him, Rykov and Jokipakka, in come 2 imports and 36-year-old Ilya Petrov. The captain Nikita Shchitov is 36 as well. Imports are unspectacular but solid. Defense looks fine unless one of the old guys breaks down or Morgan Ellis, who will have to carry the offensive load, is snake-bitten.
    • however, having 2 import Ds means the replacement for Martin Bakos is a healthy Dmitri Lugin. And we can all have opinions but to me, one is far from the other no matter how healthy Lugin is.
    • Eric O'Dell was a symbol of Sochi to me. Big, strong, all situations center playing on a small team for 3 years... That's rare. He moved to the wing last year mostly being Rosen's trigger man and had his offensively best season so far, 22 goals. He is being replaced with Malte Stromwall, the guy who scored 30... in Liiga. Now Liiga fans all say Stromwall improved by leaps and bounds over the last 2 years but the issue remains, Finnish league imports have, at best, 50/50 success rate in the KHL nowadays.
    Question marks:
    • if SKA decides they don't need a certain player for a while chances are Sochi is going to get him. They have also worked extensively with CSKA, Loko and Ak Bars on the loan front before, maybe they can get some useful players.
    Prediction: to reiterate, the starter is decent but unproven, backup is a reclamation project, the defense is fine but at the expense of forwards where only players of note are two centers and a wild card from KooKoo. Finishing as high as the 5th place seems unlikely if not impossible. Below that, however, none of the team are very good so how they shake out between 6th and 9th is too hard to guess at this point. But that's where Sochi should be. This team is a house of cards, it will be fine until the wind picks up and after that, who knows how it will hold up.

    Jokerit Helsinki - slightly improved

    The good:
    • do I believe Niemi is an elite goalie in the KHL? Nope. Is there a chance he can be any worse than Zapolski last year? Nope. So it's just a given that Jokerit's team Sv% is going to improve. Hence they will allow less goal. Hence they will win more games unless their forwards drop the ball completely.
    • the defense is as good as anybody's in this league. If somebody of you is thinking Jokerit has the best defense in the league - you are not crazy. I don't know if you are right but you are not crazy to think that.
    • due to a myriad of injuries, Henrik Haapala is flying under the radar as possibly one of the best Finnish players in Europe. Much like Sakari Manninen, upon whose arrival many pondered if he belongs to the KHL, Haapala is someone who can elevate Jokerit to a different level of perception seemingly out of nowhere. If he stays healthy.
    • just like in years before the forward group is very deep. One could say the team's biggest star is 4th line right wing :sarcasm:
    The bad:
    • a lot depends on Peter Regin. He needs to score more than 0.3 PPG as the 1st line center of a good team. Or Kontiola needs to catch a second wind and show him how it's done although at the ripe age of 35 it's unlikely.
    • Manninen is obviously someone they would have rather kept. Losing him isn't the end of the world for this group but that's the main reason why I think they only improved slightly. How effectively they will be able to replace him remains to be seen.
    Question marks:
    • how good is Antti Niemi going to be? Jokerit survived abysmal performance by Zapolski last year without digging themselves into a hole just because the team is just that good but with at least average goaltending, we are talking about 20-30 fewer goals allowed.
    • Haapala. If he can replace Manninen's production whatever Kontiola scores is just an added bonus.
    Prediction: definitely #3 team in the conference unless something goes very bad.

    Kunlun - got better

    The good:
    • Kunlun was a team with a good budget and good players last year. However, as is sometimes the case, it didn't make them a good team. They were a mess. The only players who had good or at least decent season were Yip (who has scored 20 goals for the first time in his pro career, in any league), Lajunen and Lazushin. Maybe Vitasek. Beck played well enough to be rescued by Avangard. Anyway, there are very little reserves left to do any worse. It's questionable if Kunlun improved man for man but as a team, with at least some sense of coherence they should be able to achieve better things.
    • Simon Hrubec is in his prime, an undisputed starting goalie on a very good team for a long time, and just like Pavel Francouz back in the day enters the league after winning the championship and playoff MVP title. I'd say he is a proven option that should bring stability to the crease. Lazushin did an admirable job after team whiffed on the other 3 goalies but there is a reason why he has been a backup for most of his career - his raw ability only allows to do so much. Hrubec should place Kunlun's goaltending into the above-average territory. His backup doesn't inspire much confidence but it shouldn't matter that much.
    • the defense is a mixed bag of emotions but it has Matthew Maione who is one of a kind in this league. None of the GMs on big teams were brave enough to sign him, I suppose. But that's good for a neutral fan, he is again on the team which will give him minutes and a chance to score close to 50 points again.
    • the forward group is deeper and more proven. Wolski is on the team from the start of the season, Brule is now in his 6th KHL season so we know he can do the job, Spencer Foo is someone with very obvious offensive talent. The ceiling of this team depends on how well these top guys can do the job and how much 2nd line guys - Cracknell, Andrew Miller - chip in. Barys definitely had worse players do a very good job. So overall, this is a deep group which is easily in the top-8 of the conference.
    • if guys like Foo or Tyler Wong were to accept Chinese citizenship (likely) it would remove the need to play guys that are way below par on the 4th line making the team even deeper. The depth they have would realistically allow 4th line or Tyler Wong, Cory Kane and Luke Lockhart, all with Chinese passports. That's not bad.
    The bad:
    • as I've mentioned, Hrubec's backup Jeremy Smith is just mediocre. More of EBEL level goalie that a KHL one.
    • defensive depth is bad. Below the top-4 dropoff is significant below top-6 the guys currently on the roster wouldn't even be good at the VHL level. Andrej Sustr also completely checked out last season after being cut by the NHL team, hopefully, he refocusses as he is supposed to and can be #1 D on this team.
    • correct me if I'm wrong but Curt Fraser has never had any success as a head coach at any level. He definitely didn't improve Kunlun's game much after arrival last year. Hardly confidence-inspiring.
    Question marks:
    • just an interesting side note, after being much like the United Nations for 3 seasons, relying especially heavy on the Finns in years 1 and 3, this year there are only 3 non-Canadien guys on the team. Maybe that's a conscious decision after 2 years of good players not managing to achieve not only a good result but at least somewhat acceptable result.
    • just like with every team where many players have never played in Europe it remains to be seen how good or bad they adapt to it.
    Prediction: the parts are all there for this team to be at least 8th in the conference. If they miss the playoffs again they need to start to look for something in the water.

    Lokomotiv Yaroslavl - stayed the same

    The good:
    • in an overhaul to their center position, they were able to bring in Da Costa and Lander, two of the best in Europe. That is an improvement over Loktionov, who was very good last year, and Kontiola who isn't so good anymore. Since Salak was a spare part last year bringing in 2 imports in place of 1 didn't hurt either.
    • Ty Rattie should be an adequate replacement for Brandon Kozun. After all, he can score like 60 points in the NHL on McDavid's wing, just ask any Oilers fan a year ago :sarcasm: Joking aside, you can do a lot worse than Rattie bringing in someone from NA.
    • not sure if it qualifies as "the good" from the standings perspective but from the fan's one, it will be interesting to see how Loko's kids do once again as there will be around 10 spots for players under the age 25 in the lineup.
    The bad:
    • surely Alexander Salak was overpaid for his role on the team. But he made everyone feel very calm about the position in case Konovalov struggled. As he did in the PO. Lazushin is a good 1B goalie but not someone you would like to see overtaking your starter so that puts a decent amount of pressure on Konovalov to perform.
    • Savchenko for Yelesin... Not much to say here, one is not like the other. It's not a disaster but a big downgrade, no way around it.
    • going with kids isn't something that can't backfire. All the hype aside, Denisenko, Kovalenko, Kayumov have a lot of room to improve. Loko needs them scoring 25 points per season, not 6 or 10.
    Question marks:
    • again, say what you will about Kvartalnov but he is one of the most youth-trusting coaches in the country. How much of that trust does MacTavish have? Or will we be seeing Stepan Sannikov and not Denisenko on the 1st line?
    Prediction: they are in that 3-5 range just like last year but 4-5 seems more likely.

    Metalurg Magnitogorsk - improved a whole lot

    The good:
    • Magnitka had a ridiculous offseason. It's the kind of offseason people have in computer games, not real life. I don't know where did they get the money from, is it what Koshechkin and Kulyomin taking cheaper deals do (Magnitka is saving at least 2 mil euros that way as Kulyomin's contract was crazy) or is it the factory simply diving deeper into its pockets upon realizing what they were spending isn't enough to be competitive in any way. Most likely it's both.
    • on defense, aging Yakov Rylov left. In goes Paul Postma and Yegor Yakovlev. So bottom pairing guy left, a complete and ready to go first pair arrived. 2 for 1. That's not bad. Looking at the depth chart, Ivan Vereshchagin, who cried himself out of Sibir because he's too good for them, is now team's 8th defenseman.
    • I wasn't sure how to quantify Magnitka's improvement at forward without going into too much text so let's look at it this way - 5 top-scoring forwards who left combined for 132 points, 5 top scoring forwards who arrived combined for 187 last year. In not such a numerical way, based on emotions, I would say Magnitka improved as much as you feel Parshin is better than Varfolomeyev. Basically, Matt Ellison is the only guy who left worth mentioning. O'Dell, Kozun, Loktionov, Parshin arrived.
    • Vladimir Galuzin isn't all about point totals but amongst bigger names, he can be missed as a great addition to this team. Sliding in between 1C and 2C for years in Nizhniy Novgorod he slots in as a 3C here. Which is exactly what makes this offseason so good for Magnitka, they can, much like CSKA or SKA, now use leaders on the other teams as role players. At least they aren't sending them to the VHL though.
    The bad:
    • Stanislav Galimov is a good goalie (again, #1 for Torpedo coming in as backup) but the way Artyom Zagidulin left wasn't pretty. One of the best undrafted Russian goalies he was pretty much forced out of KHL to NA. I will be as much of a drama queen as to say Magnitka really lacked respect for his ability and ambitions as a player. Something similar seems to be happening to Bilyalov in Ak Bars as well (that situation might change though).
    • Matt Ellison had a great season even while being forced to play center last year. I don't know what his plans are, maybe he got sick of winters or flying but he is still a player worth loads of money. Magnitka found a good replacement for him, it's not much of an issue that way but for the team which manages to add him, for example, imagine if Omsk managed to get him, they would be super lucky.
    • depth at forward is not at the level of most other big teams. In case of injuries, they will have to play MHL guys.
    Question marks:
    • how well the new faces jell together. Other than that, this team is good to go.
    Prediction: 2nd - 3rd in the conference. Even winning it wouldn't be that surprising just Avangard seems like a better bet at this point.

    Neftekhimik Nizhnemamsk - some more players ost likely coming but as things stand now, got substantially weaker

    The good:
    • not much. Konstantin Barulin might be an upgrade over Ilya Ezhov (his age and performance last season puts the question mark here). At worst, he isn't a downgrade which is pretty good under the circumstances.
    • overall, the defense got deeper. The quality of that depth is questionable at times, however. Zakharchuk, Ryasensky, Atyushov in his 40s, Ignatovich... Quantity over quality. Ziyat Paigin definitely has some potential so if he brings Sochi performance and not the way he did everywhere else, he can be a bright spot. Other than 3 guys that are good and an import Murphy they have 6 guys for remaining 2 slots so some of them are bound to be decent.
    The bad:
    • unless Paigin brings his A-game big time none of the new guys are an adequate replacement for Polasek. Ryan Murphy has the reputation of a D who can't play any D. That's not good for a team which needs someone to eat minutes and move the puck 5 on 5.
    • the number of absolute useless filler is just too high. Ryasensky, Zakharchuk, Dmitri Kazionov, Korotkov... What is the point of having these guys on the KHL roster anymore?
    • who the hell is going to score goals? All the forwards who scored at least 20 points last year left, out of remaining ones Padakin is the only one who can be seen as a top-6 forward. From the new guys, Chernikov turns 35 couple of days into the season, 20 points from him would be a good result. Imports are Matt White (from DEL) and Zack Mitchell. Those are complementary players. If they see opposition's best Ds they will cap out at 20-25 points. Remember me saying Amur has the worst 1st line? Somebody better hold Neftekhimik's beer.
    Question marks:
    • they have 2 import spots open. If they fill those with legitimate 1st line scoring forwards it's not all that bad. Getting kinda late though and there is little information about their plans. They will definitely get someone though it's a matter of how good they are.
    Prediction: I expect them to land the kind of imports that would allow challenging for the 9th place. Since Mitch Marner is landing in Nizhnekamsk I think playoffs are out of the picture. It is, however, certainly possible that they will end up competing with Amur and Admiral rather than Traktor and Sibir.

    Salavat Yulaev Ufa - stayed the same

    The good:
    • I think Sakari Manninen is a better player and I think he fits in line with Omark and Hartikainen better than Kemppainen who is a mobile battering ram but has little going in terms of high-end skill. So although SYu management made very clear their goal was to keep as much of the same team as possible this change might be the blessing in disguise.
    • the real blessing is having Metsola, Omark and Harti for another year.
    • there is a bit of an overload on D, it makes me wonder maybe during Sergeev's drama they counted him to be as good as gone but in the end, they have 9 perfectly usable Ds, 4 righties, 5 lefties. Picture perfect. The main addition was Yevgeni Lisovets, who, in my opinion, is really good and gives SYu very well rounded defense both offensively and defensively.
    The bad:
    • Soshnikov in place of Vladimir Tkachyov is... different. Tkachyov wasn't very good in the regular season, then he kinda was in the PO... Overall, for a team which was intent on keeping everything the same, this is a pretty big change. Soshnikov is an undeniably good player, arguably better than Tkachyov but it's apples and oranges. Having Soshnikov party replaces Kemppainen, however. Net front on PP, PK duties, that kind of thing. It's like Manninen and Soshnikov meshed up in one is kinda like Kemppainen and Tkachyov.
    • they are one forward short compared to last year. Burdasov had an interesting season last year, he led the league in PIMs, was -15, by far worst on the team but also scored 19 goals and wore a C when Panin didn't play. He also didn't play in the PO when the final conclusions of how good or bad this team was were made. Burdasov himself is hoping for an NHL deal so I suppose SYu are waiting for him to either sign there or come back. If he signs, whoever Ufa gets to replace him has big shoes to fill.
    Question marks:
    • Burdasov is the obvious one. If he gets an NHL deal SYu will be in quite a predicament to replace his 20 goals. Import spots are filled so they can only Russian players hence they either pull the rabbit out the hat in a trade a la Kalinin for Kuzmenko or trade for someone like Syomin at the deadline. Or splash the cash and get someone like Vovchenko or Rudenkov if he continues progressing. Needless to say, getting Burdasov back would be simpler.
    • 1st lines chemistry will ultimately decide what's the real potential of this team.
    Prediction: East is a tough place to be in. 4-5 in the conference. Rising above that is certainly possible but without clarity about the secondary scoring situation, it's hard to project them higher than that.

    Severstal Cherepovets - if there is a team worse than Minsk this is it

    The good:
    • just like in Admiral's situation last year, some players will get to prove they are better than the GMs around the league have thought.
    • some young players will get big roles. Although Geraskin and Kudako are probably the only ones who will get significantly bigger ones than they would have on the other teams.
    • Libor Sulak falls out of context significantly as he could probably do better than Severstal and not really sure how or why he got there. Other guys who are decent, like Vovchenko, simply didn't leave it yet or are Russian players looking for a chance (Galimov).
    The bad:
    • I don't know if it's the sense of safety after other teams were kicked and the league is at only 24 teams or they just legitimately have no resources and don't care what happens but this is a pathetic excuse of a KHL team. There are less than 10 players on it whom you could call too good for the VHL.
    • the team had 1 player who scored over 20 points last year. The fact that they managed to finish ahead of 3 teams in the standings is quite amazing, money they paid to Dominik Furch paid off. Somewhat. No such ambitions this year, seems they are ok with being last.
    Question marks:
    • where do those few decent players end up on trade deadline.
    • can Severstal score 100 goals. Last year, Slovan finished with 101 and Traktor with 102 so I think for this roster it would be pretty good to match those results.
    Prediction: a little bit different strengths and weaknesses compared to Minsk but results should be roughly of the same terribleness.

    Sibir Novosibirsk - compared to the team at the end of last season, stayed the same

    The good:
    • Sibir's start last year was an abnormality. So the conclusion they stayed the same applies to their roster construction rather than the result they have achieved last year. At the same time, they started pushing when other teams started giving up on their season or falling apart for some other reasons (Kunlun) so 18th place in the league was actually a pretty good outcome. Anyway, my point is, Sibir didn't make many changes but because they didn't need to, the team was performing well after the early season's turmoil.
    • going back to last season's preview, I said Liiga imports are a big gamble and Sibir was at the butt end of it. No more gambling this year, all the imports are coming from the other KHL teams and all of them were fairly successful during their careers here.
    • Sam Lofquist is more of a PP specialist rather than the all-purpose leader of the defense some imports are expected to be but at the same time, he is a player Sibir didn't have at all last year. He will take Savchenko's spot in the lineup who scored 4 points. Even with limitations he definitely addresses the need as Sibir had no D in their top-10 of scoring last year.
    • looks like Sibir is Avto's little brother now with later sending them Timashov, Torchenyuk, and Chesalin. These guys won't set the world on fire but they are definitely KHL players with substantial upside you can move up and down the lineup. This team falls perfectly in line with post-Lehtera Sibir - no big names but a deep lineup where every line is expected to contribute.
    • any success Sibir has ever had can be largely contributed to their goalies. Be it Koskinen, or Salak, or Krasikov there have been some monster performances over the years. It remains to be seen if the goalies can perform at .93 Sv% level those guys have before but Sateri is definitely an upgrade over last year's version of Dany Taylor.
    The bad:
    • historically, to be in the playoff contention, Sibir needs a BIG contribution from their 1st line. We are talking 40-point territory here. There just aren't any players on this roster who could perform at that level. Yegor Milovzorov is arguably the guy with highest offensive upside on the team and let's face, more people are likely to forget Yegor Milovzorov exists than believe he will lead KHL team in scoring. There are multiple players that can score above 30 but most likely that just is not enough.
    • there is a lack of quality on D. Nikolai Demidov is a very good young player but is he really a #1 D? Does Sibir have anyone good enough defensively to make some use of Sam Lofquist 5 on 5? This team has a good number of perfectly fine KHL Ds but my sense is many of them will be forced to fill bigger shoes than they should.
    • there is no evidence Nikolai Zavarukhin is a good KHL coach. Another gamble. Weird they didn't want/weren't able to persuade Andriyevsky to stay.
    Question marks:
    • can this team score enough? Perform on the PP without having high-end scoring talents?
    • is Zavarukhin the guy who can solve quite difficult tasks that fall on the shoulders if one is the head coach of Sibir.
    Prediction: all things considered I think Sibir did a decent job forming the team, money is a serious limitation. Roster places them quite firmly at #9 in the league, they need to hope something (again) goes very wrong for Kunlun or Traktor. Those aren't completely out of reach.

    SKA St. Petersburg - got slightly weaker

    The good:
    • you can find me on the record early in June when he was reportedly close to signing with Avangard and there haven't been any rumors tying him to SKA that they need to get Kagarlitsky or this is just a failed offseason no matter what else they do. And, most likely because SKA's brass reads this board, they got him. He was the only Russian forward they can get who could come close to replacing Gusev. I think he is close than most people think if we look not only at offense but an all-around game. It's still a hit but the one they did their best to cope with.
    • with all due respect to the old master letting Datsyuk go was the right move. At this stage of his career, Lehtera is just as good of a player.
    • adding Tkachyov improves scoring depth as he is replacing Kruchinin who just never fit in with the SKA and from his interviews, never really cared for it in the first place.
    • SKA traded away some of their VHL talents which is a welcome change.
    The bad:
    • despite their best efforts to once again adequately replace those who moved to the NA, it is just not possible. Even if you have all the power in the world to drain the little guys from the smaller teams (although we could make a point SYu won a little victory in Serheev's situation) the talent pool is just too shallow to get new Gavrikov, Shestyorkin, and Prokhorkin. SKA downgraded in each of those cases. Even letting Hersley go, no matter how bad he made himself look in the PO, hurts them compared to the last season.
    • I'm not really sure what is the point of having imports whose main competition are other imports. Unless they have found Koskiranta to be absolutely unmovable it just makes no sense. But hey, maybe we will see Rundblad in the VHL, he is on two-way contract after all. I'm sure he would love a bus trip to Uchaly :sarcasm:
    • I think as far as the results go SKA will be fine simply because they have a great roster but Kudashov as a choice for the head coach position is disappointing. His teams play that lock'em down late 90s vibe of hockey which just isn't fitting for a team with such potential.
    • SKA has 16 KHL forwards, 10 defensemen and will send Kochetkov to the VHL. Great depth, am I right?
    Question marks:
    • maybe they will move some of the players. There is definitely more harm in keeping that big of the group compared to cutting it by 3-4 players.
    • how good will the new guys be? Especially Lehtera, who had a couple of sad seasons in Philadelphia.
    Prediction: I think SKA is still out of reach for everyone else, the only ones benefiting from their relative weakening is CSKA. It would be great if Jokerit would give them a fight for the division lead.

    Spartak Moscow - stayed the same

    The good:
    • be it a good thing or a bad thing, Spartak were very content with the team they have, the only really impactful change will be Maxwell going out and Hersey coming in. Ilya Zubov will move up the lineup to take the 2C spot (judging from the offseason) while Hersley takes the spot and role vacated by Kalinin who didn't do well last year. If you asked me a classical compromise of losing in one position to gain in the other.
    • you can think what you want about his mustache but Oleg Znarok is a very successful coach in this league and him taking the position basically guarantees team isn't going to underachieve.
    The bad:
    • doesn't look like Spartak has resources to be more than a team which is meant to make the playoffs but be kicked out in the first round.
    • the team just seems mediocre in every position. Hersley and Khokhlachev are the only players giving this team some flair, some colors. This is a poor man's Znarokian Dynamo. Fun fact, 8 players on the team have worked with Znarok on Dynamo, unsurprisingly almost all of them are over 30 now. But I digress.
    • Hanzl and Zubov as 1-2 down the middle is quite weak not to mention they have no real, competent 3rd line center. If it was my team I would definitely try playing Koko in the middle and someone like Leshchenko as a top-6 wing. Maybe Znarok will come to that conclusion as well but as it is now, 1st line is lacking firepower and centers on other lines seem overtiered.
    Question marks:
    • maybe SKA connection still works and they can get someone like Dergachyov. But it seems to be taking players to Sochi nowadays.
    Prediction: perfectly fine 70-point team. Hard to see them overachieving or underachieving. 6-7th in the conference.

    Torpedo Nizhniy Novgorod - got worse but also moved to a weaker conference

    The good:
    • Torpedo is one of the more interesting teams before the season, there are a lot of good things surrounding the team but there are also a lot of worrisome ones. Most of the later weren't self-inflicted so there is really not much bad to say about the management. Other than not paying wages for awhile there. Anyway, the best thing which has happened to Torpedo is moving to the West. Less tiresome schedule and weaker competition for 6-8 places is a welcome change.
    • I don't know if we can use the word "scouting" in its real sense in the KHL context but the amount of success Torpedo had by bringing in and developing young players is second to none at the moment. Zhafyarov has finally broken out as a top-6 forward, Shenfeld bounced back after riding the pine for Magnitka, Barantsev has further improved his game after emerging out of nowhere in 17/18, Mikhail Orlov arrived from the VHL and has taken a top-4 role, kids from the youth system - Veryaev, Ilyin, Urakov - have all started contributing at the KHL level. All smaller teams are forced to give chances to lesser-known young players but Torpedo's hits-to-misses ratio, as well as the number of home-grown players emerging, is brilliant.
    • Torpedo are once again relying on the youth to replace the vets that left, Varfolomeyev will most likely get Parshin's spot, for example. Anyhow, despite having a couple of grizzled veterans the average age of their opening night roster is most likely going to be 2nd youngest in the league, just above Loko. It doesn't guarantee success in the standing but plays a very healthy part in the league as a whole.
    The bad:
    • Russian teams are made of mostly Russian players. Good teams that have a lot of money need good Russian players so those are expensive. Small teams are left with what big teams don't need [yet]. That's the situation Torpedo has found themselves in, this year especially. Magnitka raided them and took almost every decent contributor with Russian passport they found. Parshin, Galuzin, and Galimov left and their replacements are, in Parshin's case, a downgrade and in the case of other two - imports; which opens up holes further down the lineup.
    • goalie position seems very weak. They have no real KHL-level backup so it means they will have to rely heavily on Anders Lindback who hasn't been a good goalie for a long time. Even if he stays healthy enabling Torpedo to avoid a borderline disaster of playing their backups a lot with a heavy workload it's hard to expect him to perform above average.
    • Torpedo had two very good imports on defense last year, Holm left to try the NHL one last time and Bodie went to the perennial SHL contenders Vaxjo. The losses of Russian players meant Torpedo were only able to "spend" one import spot on defense which landed to Chay Genoway who is a fine player albeit a bit of an offensive specialist. The other spot will go to Georgi Misharin or one of the young guys from the system (don't know which one is better) which is a harsh slap in the face by reality. The defense got a lot weaker.
    • the losses at forward were where most of the money went so the group doesn't seem much weaker, there are some question marks like how well will Jordan Schroeder do or how much Szczechura and Varfolomeyev are able to bounce back but it all should be fine. Not to mention the young players have room to grow as well. However, the hope is the group is as good as last year, improvement is unlikely.
    Question marks:
    • another team which has thin margins for errors. There aren't any big question because the team as a whole is one.
    Prediction: the situation similar to that of Sochi. None of the teams below top-5 in the West are very good, it will be a dog fight. 7-9th place finish is expected.

    Traktor Chelyabinsk - improved a lot

    The good:
    • I suppose this is partially the reason I'm doing this preview in the first place but I did not fully grasp the extent of changes happening in Chelyabinsk. I perceived them as a mid-table team with Barys being the tweener between those and the big boys but I understand now that is wrong. Much like Avto in 17/18 and 18/19 Traktor has taken a significant step forward to join the big teams. They managed to remain under the radar (to me, at least) just because they haven't signed any star players, no Daweses or Sextons here, not even Tryamkins. Nonetheless, they have improved in all areas and Hyka or Virtanen might reach KHL star status in a year.
    • of those leaving, only aging Alexei Petrov is worth mentioning on defense. Arriving Jesse Virtanen adds a tremendous boost to firepower, while Kalinin, Menshikov and Sergei Tereschenko will add some depth in smaller roles. Although I feel their birthplace has a lot to do with getting the former two.
    • at forward, a lot of guys were brought in to improve the depth but sticking to the key figures, Malykhin and Sedlak should be 2 top centers with Hyka, Calof, Kruchinin and Christian Thomas on their wings. As I said, this group doesn't feature any truly exceptional players but it is definitely on par with what Traktor had last season. Furthermore, any half-competent group of KHL top-6 forwards can beat 102 goals they have scored last year so the actual improvement on the ice is a given fact.
    The bad:
    • Vasili Demcenko is the team's starting goalie and gives them little to worry about but for the backup role they went the same route Avto did - young kids with a handful of games worth of KHL experience. The upside here is unlike in Avto's case, both contenders for the role are talented young goalies, Fedotov being a former Flyers pick and Sukhachyov, who will most likely end up winning it, making the U20 WJC team for two years being it's started as a 19 y.o. So the case can be made Traktor is giving those guys a chance on merit but in case of Demchenko's injury, some sort of plan B would have to be executed.
    • defensively, the defense is meh. Bailen and Virtanen aside, the rest of the group is better than last year but still firmly in the bottom half of the conference.
    • I think people in Chelyabinsk expect too much of Sedlak, maybe even he does himself. He is a mixture between Robin Hanzl and Kemppainen which is fine but to set yourself apart from the competition one with a bit more of offensive upside would be required.
    • Kruchinin and Malykhin are reclamation projects. The former will be fine but the later has only played 41 regular-season games over last 2 seasons.
    Question marks:
    • I think it makes sense to replace almost entire top-6 after the season team barely scores over 1.5 goals per game but how the new one performs remains to be seen.
    Prediction: overall, the team has improved significantly. They will most likely fight Barys for the 6th in the conference possibly climbing higher if one of the big teams struggle.

    Vityaz Podolsk - stayed the same

    The good:
    • the biggest change was getting Ilya Ezhov which opened and import spot which was filled by Ville Lajunen. Ezhov is a good goalie and Lajunen is pretty damn good at what he does so all is very nice here.
    • Jakub Jerabek is back and unless he got ruined by NA experience he is one of the best Dman in the league. He was in 16/17 season, that is.
    • offensively, this is Miro Aaltonen's team so good news #1 - nobody was able to pry him away from Podolsk, [probably] good news #2 - his rather disappointing supporting cast last year was replaced by 2 fellow Finns which may help in some way.
    The bad:
    • all good things come at a price in this league. Getting Lajunen meant they need to let go of Stolyarov and Kokarev and replace them with young guys from SKA VHL system. I still think it's a good trade-off, Grebenshchikov and Larichev have played for Sochi before and haven't been bad but still, Kokarev scored more points last year than those guys have over their entire KHL careers combined.
    • the team has very little depth. The healthy lineup looks fine but any needed replacements would be way lower in quality.
    • a lot relies on 35-year-old Alex Syomin and Miro Aaltonen filling in the scoresheet. Their supporting cast, especially the Finnish imports, are complementary players.
    • Evgeny Artyukhin has found its way back on the KHL roster. Vityaz too. Flashbacks of the old days.
    Question marks:
    • the success of Vityaz depends on some of those players having the best season in their careers. Be it Shvets-Rogovoy, Grebenshchikov, Larichev or even Nattinen, some of them will have to perform above expectations or Vityaz will have trouble.
    Prediction: the fight between Sochi, Torpedo, and Vityaz will be really interesting. It's absolutely up to in-season events who makes the PO and who doesn't so again, finishing somewhere between 7-9 is expected.

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