Elliotte Friedman's notes on KHL, Russia

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filatov.jpgI was going to spotlight Elliotte Friedman’s observations about Russian hockey in the previous quick hits post, but frankly, it’s so awesome that I deemed it worthy of its own post. Friedman traveled to the KHL hub for the CBC and came back with plenty of interesting observations. I’ll try to condense it down to some of my favorite tidbits, but it’s absolutely worth a readSeriously.

Money matters

Us bitter scrappy writer types always like to linger on dollars and cents (some of us even had “follow the money” beaten into our heads by crusty journalism professors), but sometimes the bottom line is a no-brainer.

For one thing, NHL players lose a bunch of money in taxes and escrow accounts that they wouldn’t normally deal with (or deal with to less of an extent) if they played in the KHL. The highlight for me was the shady practices that encouraged winning and success.

4. Then, there’s the bonuses. Guys in St. Petersburg made $1,000 for every point the team recorded during the season. Final total: $122,000. It’s like that all over the league.

5. Two guys who used to play in Russia said it got even better when the envelopes/bags of money come out. One said after three wins in a row, everyone on the team was given a $10,000 cash bonus. Another said a teammate having a great year was given $75,000 in a bag. Players swear, though, there are no more bags/envelopes of cash being handed out.

Quality of play, strange differences

Friedman essentially said that if you took the names and logos off of the jerseys, you’d think that you were watching an NHL-quality game. Although there’s more clutching and grabbing, the games are aggressive and the KHL is “a real skater’s league.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean it lacks some idiosyncratic tendencies.

Strangest hockey phenomenon I saw: teams practice after they get eliminated from the playoffs, because players are paid through April. This does not go over well. I was standing by the bench as practice ended. Two English-speaking players walked off. One said, “How many days of this are left?” The other said, “43.” You know it’s bad when they’re counting.

Former players

He ran into some former players and players who are seemingly on temporary leave. For instance, he discussed the fact that while Alexei Yashin was interested in going back to the NHL, he wasn’t going to do so for the league minimum. There’s also the indication that Alex Radulov and Nikita Filatov would like to come back to North America in the future.

Finally, some funny notes

I’ll leave you with a handful of other funny anecdotes and notes from the piece which, again, you really should read in its entirety.

“Every time sometimes tells me, “Man, traffic is terrible in (insert city here),” it’s always an exaggeration. People always make it sound worse than it actually is. So I didn’t listen when warned about Moscow. But it was brutal. If I had to drive there, I’d be homicidal.”

“Never, ever, ever try to out-drink a Russian, especially when vodka is involved.”

“I met a junior teammate of Alexander Ovechkin’s. He said those who knew him then can’t believe how much of a hitter he’s become. “He never used to touch anyone,” the guy said, laughing.”

Blue Jackets defeat Coyotes in shootout, but only after Mike Smith made franchise-record 58 saves

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 07:  Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes during the preseason NHL game against San Jose Sharks at Gila River Arena on October 7, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Sharks 3-1  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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PHOENIX (AP) Columbus pummeled Mike Smith with a franchise-record 60 shots, Alexander Wennberg scored with 2:16 left in the third period and the Blue Jackets beat the Arizona Coyotes 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night.

Smith set a franchise record with 58 saves, but the Coyotes still lost their third straight.

Cam Atkinson and Sam Gagner scored on Smith in the shootout while Curtis McElhinney stopped both Arizona shooters. Boone Jenner also scored for Columbus, which has won three straight.

Shane Doan got his 399th career goal and Radim Vrbata also scored for Arizona, which was playing its eighth overtime game in 23 contests.

Doan put Arizona ahead 2-1 at 11:04 of the second when he redirected Michael Stone‘s lobbed shot from just inside the blue line along the right boards.

Wennberg tied it at 2 by backhanding the puck between Smith’s pads off a pass from Brandon Saad.

The Blue Jackets needed only 13 seconds to take the lead in the first period. Jenner took a pass from Jack Johnson between the hashes and fired over Smith’s glove.

Smith made 47 saves between the two Columbus goals and 21 in the third period alone.

After failing to take advantage of a two-man advantage late in the first, the Coyotes evened the score on Vrbata’s rising shot off McElhinney’s blocker from the left faceoff circle for a power-play goal 63 seconds into the second period.

Smith helped preserve the lead with 5:30 left in the second, stopping Saad’s breakaway attempt with a sprawling pad save.

McElhinney finished with 32 saves.

Related:

Why the Blue Jackets are the NHL’s biggest surprise

Panthers lament slow start versus Sens, as debate over controversial Gallant firing continues

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 20:  Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on November 20, 2016 in New York City. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2 in the shootout.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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It’s been one week since the shocking and controversial firing of Gerard Gallant. The decision made by the Florida Panthers continues to be a hot topic of debate.

Don Cherry weighed in on it Saturday. As you might expect, he wasn’t in favor of the decision. Meanwhile, the Panthers lost 2-0 to the Ottawa Senators in a game that completely swung in favor of the hosts in the span of just 19 seconds.

Erik Karlsson and Derick Brassard scored early in the first period, giving Ottawa a two-goal lead and that was the only scoring of the evening.

On taking over from Gallant, interim coach Tom Rowe said, per the Sun Sentinel: “This isn’t a knock on Gerard, because he did a great job.

“I just thought some guys weren’t bringing it the way they’re capable of bringing it every single night. A little too much inconsistency. They’d come out one period and play great. Another period they just sit back a little bit too tentative.”

That second paragraph is interesting.

Against the Senators, the Panthers had a slow start, illustrated by their 19-second lapse leading to the Ottawa goals. The Panthers found their game in the second period but tested Mike Condon with only 24 shots on goal by the end of the night.

They also couldn’t capitalize on a five-on-three power play in the second period.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said Keith Yandle, per the Miami Herald. “They had a good start, and sometimes you have to weather the storm throughout courses of games, and they did a good job in the first 10 or 12 minutes. If you look at the second period we were better.”

There were anxious moments for the Panthers, as defenseman Aaron Ekblad took a puck to the face in the second period. He missed about two minutes of game time, but did require stitches, according to Rowe.

Avs’ D-man Johnson suffers broken fibula, out six to eight weeks

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 11:  Erik Johnson #6 of the Colorado Avalanche in action against the Winnipeg Jets at Pepsi Center on November 11, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Another loss for the Colorado Avalanche, but the news following this latest defeat is much worse.

Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson has suffered a broken fibula and is out six to eight weeks, the team announced following Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Dallas Stars.

Johnson left the game because of the injury and didn’t return.

This development occurred later in the same day the team’s captain Gabriel Landeskog skated briefly with his teammates, leading to the possibility that he may travel with the Avs on their upcoming road trip.

It’s obviously devastating news for Colorado, which recently had its effort ripped by coach Jared Bednar. Issues with consistency and work ethic have been around since Patrick Roy was in charge.

The Avalanche have struggled since the beginning of the season after a late-summer coaching change, but they now occupy last place in the Western Conference with five straight losses.

Johnson has 11 points, which ties him with Tyson Barrie for the team lead among defenseman in that category.

In addition to playing 22 minutes a night, which is a substantial loss because he plays on both the penalty kill and power play, he’s also one of only two blue liners with the Avalanche to have even-strength puck possession numbers greater than 50 per cent.

The difficult times for the Avalanche continue.

Video: Caggiula (finally) scores his first NHL goal

EDMONTON, AB - SEPTEMBER 26:  Drake Caggiula #36 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Calgary Flames on September 26, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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Drake Caggiula had to wait to make his NHL debut because of a hip injury suffered in pre-season. He had to wait even longer for his first NHL goal.

On Saturday, the wait for the latter ended.

Playing in just his eighth career NHL game, the North Dakota product and NCAA Frozen Four MOP — pursued by at least half a dozen teams as a college free agent — ripped home a wrist shot from the slot on the power play for career goal No. 1 in the big league.

That goal gave Edmonton a 1-0 lead over the visiting Anaheim Ducks.