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European Report: What’s going on with Russia and the Olympics?

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With another break about to begin for the Channel One Cup, we check in on the previous week’s action.

Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 11 - Russia v Norway Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Channel Once Cup begins in a few days and Russia, just before learning they were banned from the Olympics, made a curious choice for their team.

And yes, absolutely everyone has noticed the mistaken designation of Mikhail Grigorenko. For those who don’t follow the KHL closely, that is a team made up almost entirely from players from SKA and CSKA. There is one player from Lokomotiv and one from Metallurg, the only person who is travelling from a team outside the heavily populated west of Russia.

This seems to do two things. It makes the point that Russia is so powerful, they could make two or even three Olympic teams and take all the medals. It also, perhaps accidentally, points out how imbalanced the KHL is in team strength.

With ~40 games played in the KHL out of 56 this season, SKA has 107 points, CSKA has 90 and the next closest team, Jokerit, has 80. The top team in the East Conference, Ak Bars, has 73. When assessing players, particularly from SKA, it pays to remember that their quality of teammates is higher than on any other team all the time they are on the ice, even if they play depth positions.

The Channel One Cup, where the SKA/CSKA super team is competing, is part of the Euro Hockey Tour and takes place in Moscow. This year Canada is participating as part of the process of building an Olympic team. Canada and Russia are joined by the usual participants: Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. This year, South Korea is also taking part to help them prepare for their Olympic participation (they are in as the host country).

All of this happens as uncertainty reigns after the ban of the Russian team from the Olympics. There is supposed to be a process to invite “clean” Russian athletes to participate, even for team sports, but none of their usual coaches or officials can be accredited. No one has said who would pay for this, or what the timeline is to have these invitations issued or who would run the team.

Russia, meanwhile, has threatened to cancel the Olympic break in the KHL season and prevent all KHL players of any nationality from attending the Olympics. It’s not clear how they would do that beyond threatening to suspend the players. The IIHF believes the KHL is obligated to release foreign players to their national teams.

If Canada, Finland, Latvia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic cannot use KHL players to form their teams, they will be in deep trouble on trying to put together a quality roster. Sweden will be much less affected and would become the runaway favourite to win it. The USA would lose access to their top goalie, who plays for Jokerit, and would struggle as well.

All this should make for a tense behind the scenes action in Moscow for December 13-17. On the ice, that Russian team will trounce everyone.

At the end of next week, European leagues will lose a lot of players to WJC training camps as well.

Now on to the Leafs prospects and what they’ve been up to.

Yegor Korshkov

Lokomotiv had three games this week, including one today, as they travel through the East. They won the first two, one easily, one in overtime.

Yegor Korshkov is keeping on track, playing second/third line, which are largely interchangeable for ice time on this team. He had one assist in the 4-1 win over Ak Bars along with one other from last weekend in a big blowout game over a weak team. That brings his season figures since last Sunday’s discussion of his totals to seven goals and 11 assists in 39 games.

Jesper Lindgren

HPK played three games this week. They lost all three pretty badly, including one to KalPa, who even Kasperi Kapanen will tell you isn’t doing so well. He offered to fire the coach if necessary. (The coach is Sami Kapanen, who is also co-owner, and Kasperi was just trying to help out since his dad couldn’t fire himself.)

Jesper Lindgren was top pair in one game and third in two others, but he remained pointless on the week.

HPK is about to give up a host of players to the WJC, and they will suffer for it. One of the reasons they are struggling to win is that they are a very young team that will grow better with time.

Lindgren has three points in 29 games on the season so far.

Carl Grundström

Still on injury recovery.

Pierre Engvall

Still on injury recovery.

Nikolai Chebykin

Nikolai Chebykin played two games this week in the VHL. In the first, he seems to have been cut down to fourth line minutes, but he notched an assist in a 3-0 win. In his next game he added a goal in another 3-0 win on 13 minutes of play.

He has two goals and two assists in 12 games for Dynamo St. Petersburg, and seems to be finding his way on his new team.

Vladimir Bobylyov

Vladimir Bobylyov played 12 minutes in one game this week and is still pointless this season.

Vladislav Kara

After another “dressed, but did not play” appearance for Ak Bars in the KHL, Vladislav Kara was finally sent back to the VHL.

He had one game for Bars Kazan where he played 19 minutes and got one assist in a 4-2 win. He followed that up with a game where he played 25 minutes and had an assist on the opening goal and put it in the empty net at the end to seal a 3-1 win.

He has seven goals and 11 points in 14 games in the VHL.

Persons of Interest

Igor Ozhiganov: Even though three other defencemen from CSKA are going to the Channel One Cup, Ozhiganov is not. He hasn’t drawn in to a game since December 5 either. Life on a team with a stacked roster is tough, so it’s not a surprise he’d take a chance on the Leafs system.