It’s that time of the year again. When the sun hits the sky and the circus comes to town. The annual circus is landing in Russia. This year’s special act: The Goaltender Merry-Go-Round.You know he's gotta get away
To the merry-go-round and round
Count times that he laid awake
At night thinkin'
Am I goin' down now
Am I goin' down
Am I goin' down now, oh!
(By Motley Crue)
The higher the level, the higher the demands. This not only applies on Wall Street, also in ice hockey. When more money is going around in a league, that league will get more prestige and only top performances are accepted. It was seen in the NHL and now it can be seen in the Russian Kontinentalnaya Hokkeynaya Liga. Contrary to the past, there is no longer room for a mediocre or poor season. This is perhaps best illustrated when looking at the men between the pipes whose performance can mean the difference between a win and a loss and thus a playoff spot or playing golf.
David Aebischer was a dependable back-up goalie who suddenly found himself filling the hole left by Patrick Roy at the Colorado Avalanche. He succeeded his first season, saw his market value skyrocket and fall back down just as fast. Next season, Aebischer will return to the Swiss league.
The same can be said of Andrew Raycroft who never regained his rookie season form. And the list goes on: Dan Cloutier, Roman Turek, Marce Denis, Ray Emery etc. There is no longer room for taking a season off.
With the arrival of the KHL in Russia, a somewhat equal process can be witnessed. This summer a flurry of goalie movements have happened either due to a disappointing performance or thanks to a strong season.
Ak Bars Kazan had high hopes last season and put together an expensive team with just one goal: capture the title. They finished just seventh in the regular season and were eliminated in the semi-finals of the playoffs against eventual winners Salavat Yulayev Ufa.
As a result, all three goaltenders are leaving. Vasily Koshechkin came off two stellar seasons with Lada Togliatti before moving to Kazan. The towering goaltender (approx 2 metres) was called up to the national team . The Tampa Bay Lightning thought they had a steal with their 2002 eighth-round pick. Koshechkin never regained his old form in Togliatti and was rumoured to be suffering from psychological problems. Halfway through the season, Kazan acquired a new goaltender and Koshechkin was paid to view games from the stands. Next season, he hopes to regain confidence with Togliatti again.
Former NHLer Mika Noronen was a big-name signing in Kazan, but injuries caused Kazan to acquire Robert Esche, who took over as the starting goaltender. Next season, Noronen will play for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. Robert Esche came with a splash stunning everyone with a brilliant performance. However, he wasn’t able to steer his team into the final. Whether it was his less dominant performance in the playoffs or a fat contract from SKA St. Petersburg, Esche will be the third goalie to leave Kazan this summer.
Czech veteran Milan Hnilicka will return home after a six-month stay in Ufa. Egor Podomatsky was Team Russia’s goaltender for five seasons. After being demoted to a back-up role with Yaroslavl, he signed with Lada Togliatti. Finn Juuso Riiksman is coming off a terrible season. He left Finland to play in the NHL. Instead, he was just given one game in the minors before being shipped to Europe. Both in Sweden and in Russia, he performed below par. It is no surprise he’ll be back in Finland next season.
Canadian Tom Lawson had a good first season in Russia with CSKA Moscow, but mediocre playoff performances forced CSKA management to look for a new netminder. Lawson will head to Sibir Novosibirsk. His fellow countryman Marc Lamothe had a good season, but the arrival of Robert Esche in St.Petersburg means Lamothe had to go elsewhere for ice time. He signed with Kazakh KHL club Barys Astana.
Long-time Ukraine goaltender Konstantin Simchuk has toiled around the Russian league for years. Despite playing 43 games for Spartak Moscow last season, he moves to Sibir Novosibirsk. The Spartak management has high hopes for two German goalies that hold a Russian passport. One of them, Dmitrij Kotschnew, is already signed.
Dusan Salficky, a member of the 2006 Olympic Czech team, will leave Torpedo Nizhny Novogorod for second-tier Slovan Usti nad Labem in his home nation. Youngster Konstantin Barulin was hoping for more playing time and left Atlant Mytishchi for CSKA Moscow. His hopes are all but finished after CSKA announced the arrival of Jussi Markkanen. And it’s far from secure that Metallurg Magnitogorsk can hold on to their much-lauded goalie Travis Scott. The team management moved heaven and earth last season to have him return to Russia. Eventually, the Kolner Haie accepted a record sum as compensation. It remains to be seen whether Scott and Magnitogorsk will make a deal. The goaltender’s side holds all the cards as the demand for good performing goaltenders has never been so big.
What could be witnessed with coaches already last season is now happening with goaltenders. If you don’t deliver, you’re out. Gone are the days of a franchise goaltender.
Welcome to the new world, welcome to the circus. Please stand in the line when you want to hop on the merry-go-round.Notebook:
- As the grass is always greener on the other side a number of goaltenders move across the pond from North American into Russia. NY Islanders’ Wade Dubielewicz signed with Ak Bars Kazan. Carolina Hurricanes’ John Grahame heads to Avangard Omsk to join Jaromir Jagr. Dmitri Patzold exchanges the Worcester Sharks (AHL) for Vityaz Chekhov.
- Other NHL players moving into the KHL include the likes of Jaromir Jagr (Omsk), Niko Kapanen (Kazan), Joel Kwiatkowski (Cherepovets), Karel Rachunek (Dynamo Moscow), Branko Radivojevic (Spartak Moscow), Stefan Ruzicka (Spartak Moscow), Chris Simon (Vityaz Chekhov), Denis Tolpeko (Dynamo Moscow), Josef Vasicek (Yaroslavl) and Andrei Zyuzin (St. Petersburg).