KHL

KHL cancels remainder of 2019-20 season

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After pausing the Gagarin Cup playoffs following the withdrawal of two teams, the KHL has decide to pull the plug on the 2019-20 season.

The league said on Wednesday that various options were discussed as to how to complete the season. One idea was finishing the playoffs later in the year, but like the NHL, the KHL was not keen on interrupting the 2020-21 schedule, which is set to begin in late August/early September (if that’s even possible at this point in time).

From KHL president Alexey Morozov:

“It’s unfortunate that we have to finish the season early, and it wasn’t an easy decision. I’m sure that every fan, along with us, wanted to see the conclusion of the competition. However, the health of players and their loved ones, club employees, employees of sports facilities, and, of course, the fans, is much more important.

This decision could not be delayed, all those involved needed clarity and certainty in order to plan effectively. We thank everyone for their patience while we made this difficult decision.

I remain hopeful that the current situation will not affect next season.

I understand that many will be upset with the cancellation of the 2019-20 season, especially the fans of clubs that had progressed to the second round of the playoffs. However, we must follow the recommendations of health organisations.

Take care of yourself and your loved ones in this difficult time, and we will see you very soon.”

The KHL’s Board of Directors will decide the final standings at their next meeting as well as any changes to next season.

The Gagarin Cup playoffs were halted in the conference semifinals after Jokerit and Barys pulled out due to concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. Originally, the KHL was planning for a one-week break before coming up with a new format for the four remaining teams. Now, it’s completely over.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

KHL suspends playoffs one week to create new format

KHL Playoffs
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(UPDATE: The KHL has now pushed its playoffs back to at least April 10.)

The KHL is determined to continue the Gagarin Cup Playoffs, even as two of the remaining eight teams have voluntarily withdrawn from the tournament due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

After Finnish team Jokerit backed out of the playoffs over the weekend, Kazakh Barys also announced it would no longer be playing.

The KHL’s response: To suspend the postseason for one week to create a new format and schedule to complete the postseason with the remaining six games. What that format will look like remains to be seen. It is also not yet known if any other teams will back out if the league continues on with the playoffs.

The six remaining teams are CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, SKA Saint Petersburg, Sibir Novosibirsk, Barys Astana, and Salavat Yulaev Ufa.

Jokerit was supposed to play SKA Saint Petersburg in the second round, while Kazakh Barys was set to play Salavat Yulaev.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Jokerit pulls out of KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs

KHL Playoffs
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While sports in North America have been brought to a halt, the KHL Gagain Cup playoffs are still going on and getting ready to start their second round this upcoming week.

One team scheduled to play in that round has already voluntarily pulled out of the playoffs.

Jokerit, a team based out of Helsinki, Finland, announced on Saturday that it is removing itself from the postseason due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The team was set to begin its second round series against SKA Saint Petersburg on Tuesday, March 17.

Jokerit had just defeated Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in its first round series in six games. As of now, that leaves CSKA Moscow, Dinamo Minsk, SKA Saint Petersburg, Sibir Novosibirsk, Barys Astana, Salavat Yulaev Ufa, and Ak Bars Kazan as the remaining teams in the playoffs. For now.

UPDATE: Here’s the statement the KHL released on Sunday:

In relation to the developing global situation concerning the coronavirus pandemic, KHL announces the following:

The coronavirus epidemic has significantly affected the world of sports, forcing many countries, federations and sports leagues around the world to cancel or postpone major competitions.

KHL, as a major international sports league is acutely aware of its responsibility to fans, teams and staff, and is closely monitoring the situation as it develops and will strictly comply with instructions from state authorities in all participating countries of the championship, when it comes to protecting public health.

The Covid 19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving situation, and in this regard KHL is in consultation with clubs and all relevant authorities to diligently manage the impact of this matter.

Any formal decisions that affect the league will be published on KHL’s official website, as and when concluded.
The League urges its fans and interested parties to be guided only by official information posted on League & club platforms.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Ilya Kovalchuk signs one-year, $700K contract with Canadiens

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Ilya Kovalchuk has a new home for the rest of the season and it will be with the Montreal Canadiens.

The team announced on Friday that they have signed the 36-year-old Russian forward to a one-year, two-way deal worth $700,000. The Canadiens also noted that the deal is worth $70,000 in the AHL, but if this partnership goes that bad we’ll probably see another mutual termination like what happened in LA.

“We’re trying to improve the team in the short-term without hurting the organization in the long-term,” Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said on Friday. “You have high-risk, medium-risk and no-risk moves. Bringing Kovy to Montreal, there’s no risk.”

Kovalchuk’s time with the Kings ended last month after a lackluster 81 games over the last two season. He signed a three-year, $18.75M deal in 2018 after spending five years in the KHL and mustered over 19 goals and 43 points in LA. The marriage came to an end after being put on unconditional waivers as the team was terminating his deal.

Since he signed the contract as a 35-plus player, Kovalchuk’s $6.25M cap hit stays on the Kings’ books through the end of the 2020-21 NHL season, per Cap Friendly.

The Canadiens, currently missing Jonathan DrouinBrendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, and Paul Byron, sit seven points out of the last Eastern Conference wild card spot and are desperate to make a second-half push. This move by Bergevin allows him to try something without giving up assets in return. If Kovalchuk doesn’t work, then that could open the door for a trade or two. A third straight spring without playoff hockey would up the temperature on the GMs seat and likely mean big offseason changes for the franchise.

“I’m trying to help them in the short-term to stay in the playoff race until our injured players come back,” said Bergevin. “Those guys probably won’t return before the All-Star break. That’s the main reason why we signed him this morning.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Smith-Pelly joins KHL’s Kunlun Red Star on one-year deal

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After failing to catch on with the Flames in training camp, Devante Smith-Pelly has signed on with Kunlun Red Star of the KHL on a one-year deal.

The 27-year-old forward split time between the Capitals and their AHL affiliate last season. After being waived and sent down in February, he joined the Hershey Bears and scored six times and registered 14 points in 20 games. In 54 games with the Capitals, Smith-Pelly recorded eight points and was pointless in three playoff games. 

It wasn’t the easiest of seasons for Smith-Pelly in 2018-19 coming off a Stanley Cup Final where he scored three times against the Golden Knights. He couldn’t find a regular spot in Todd Reirden’s lineup and the Capitals declined to re-sign him in the summer. The Flames brought him into training camp last month on a tryout deal but released him after he went pointless in four games.

Kunlun Red Star is based in Beijing, China and coached by former NHL player and head coach Curt Fraser. 

Smith-Pelly isn’t the only player on the roster with NHL ties. You might recall names like Gilbert Brule, Adam Cracknell, Wojtek Wolski, Griffin Reinhart, Brandon Yip, and Andrej Sustr. There are also two sons of former stars in the league with David Bondra Jake Chelios featuring.

In other KHL news, four days after signing a tryout deal, former Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov has signed a one-year deal with Lokomotiv.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.