KHL: Western Conference

RETURNING TO THE MOTHERLAND: With the NHL locking out its players, the KHL is getting an influx of talent led by the likes of Alexander Ovechkin.

BY JEFF ANGUS

Hi, I am Jeff. I have been writing about sports since 2006 and you may recognize me from my work on CanucksArmy, DobberHockey, and my own personal blog, Angus Certified. I am excited to join the PlayNow Sports Blog team and to share my passion for sports with you.

In my first few posts I will be previewing the upcoming hockey season, the non-NHL hockey season. Due to the NHL lockout there is some great hockey happening all over Europe, including the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia, the Swedish Elite League (SEL) in Sweden, the SM-Liiga in Finland, and the Swiss National League A (NLA) in Switzerland.

We start the week with a look at the KHL’s Western Conference.

THE LEAGUE
The KHL was formed in 2008, taking over from the Russian Superleague (RSL). There are 26 teams in the KHL for the 2012-13 season, and the divide between the “haves” and the have nots” appears to be closing a bit. 20 of the teams are based in Russia, while the other six play in neighbouring countries. Their version of the Stanley Cup is called the Gagarin Cup, named after Yuri Gagarin, the first man to reach space and orbit the Earth.

There are 52 regular season games – every team plays every other team twice (home and away), and there are also two extra games against a “rival” opponent. Like the NHL, the top eight from each Conference qualify for the playoffs and compete in a best-of-seven series. The regular season ends on 17 February 2013.

The KHL awards points a little differently than the NHL. Three points are awarded for a regulation win, two points for an OT or shootout win, one point for an OT or shootout loss, and zero points for a regulation loss.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
CSKA Moscow
The one-time powerhouse added a lot of talent this offseason after struggling last season. Alex Radulov was brought over from Ufa, and he is joined by Pavel Datsyuk, Mikhail Grabovski, and Ilya Bryzgalov. As long as the lockout is still in effect, CSKA will be one of the KHL’s top clubs. Radulov is essentially the KHL’s Sidney Crosby – he is the best player in the league (by far), and the face of the league internationally, as well.

Atlant Mytischi
Winger Nikolai Zherdev and Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin are the most recognizable names on a mostly-Russian squad. They have made the playoffs every year since the KHL came into existence. Zherdev is leading the team in scoring with 10 points through 10 games. A good, but not great, team – they should win more than they lose.

Dynamo Minsk
Evander Kane and Pekka Rinne have joined the KHL’s only Belarusian team. They were awful last year and haven’t made the playoffs since 2009-10. Their struggles have continued over into 2012-13, as they have only two wins through nine games. Rinne has yet to play, but he should turn the team’s fortunes around significantly. He joins his former goaltender coach from Finland in Ari Hilly. And Rinne will get a lot of action behind a poor defensive group.

Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
One year removed from the terrible plane crash, Lokomotiv have rebuilt their team from the ground up. They didn’t play last season obviously, but have added a lot of talent for this season. They are currently first place in the Western Conference, with only two losses through 10 games.

Dynamo Moscow
Alex Ovechkin has returned to his childhood team to play during the lockout. His impact, of course, has been significant. They were second in the Conference with 105 points last season – expect them to be among the top clubs once again.

HC Slovan Bratislava
Lubomir Visnovsky and Andrej Sekera have signed lockout contracts with the KHL’s only Slovakian team. Miroslav Satan is also on the roster. This is their first year in the KHL, and it will be interesting to see if these clubs from other countries have trouble adjusting to the pace and skill of their higher-quality opposition in the KHL.

SKA St. Petersburg
One of the KHL’s top clubs, they have signed Vladimir Tarasenko, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Sergei Bobrovsky during the lockout. Those three will join a very strong roster featuring Maxim Afinogenov and Kevin Bieksa’s old pal, Fedor Fedorov. They have qualified for the playoffs every season and are one of the top clubs in the Western Conference.

Vityaz Chekhov
Vityaz has built a well-deserved reputation in recent years for playing hockey of the Slap Shot variety. They have been known to ice fighters and goons and start line brawls with opposing teams. Not surprisingly, they have struggled in terms of wins and losses over that time. The KHL ordered them to tone down their thuggery for this season. Noyed tough guys include Trevor Gillies and Jeremy Yablonski. The team has never made the playoffs in the KHL, and it will be interesting to see if their change in playing style will lead to a turnaround in performance.

Severstal Cherepovets
No notable players for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in two straight years.

Spartak Moscow
A very good (but very young) team, Spartak missed the playoffs by six points last year. They’ll be in tough to qualify for the playoffs with the new competition this season.

Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod
No notable players for this middle-of-the-pack team. They did win their division last season, but please don’t ask me to spell their team name without cheating.

Donbass Donetsk
The only Ukrainian team in the KHL, Donbass has a few players NHL fans are familiar with. Anton Babchuk, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Alexei Ponikarovsky have all joined to play with Donbass during the lockout. This is their first year in the KHL.

HC Lev Prague
The Czech-based team has a roster comprised mostly of Czech/Slovak players, including Marian Hossa’s younger brother, Marcel. The younger Hossa is one of the most prolific scorers in the KHL, and he could carry Lev Prague to the postseason this year. They are second in the Conference through 11 games, trailing Lokomotiv by only two points.

Dinamo Riga
The only Latvian team in the KHL, Dinamo Riga doesn’t have the same financial backing as some of its division rivals. Former OHL star Rob Schremp has joined the team after spending last season in the Swedish Elite League. It is apparently a great place to watch a hockey game in terms of crowd support and atmosphere.