The KHL season is rapidly falling apart.
Just three weeks into the season COVID-19 is wrecking havoc on the league, with many players testing positive, the better part of three full teams in quarantine and 13 games postponed… so far. Did the KHL move too quickly to return to hockey? Did they take the best precautions?
The league began its season on September 2 but there were already plenty of warning signs related to the virus during preseason. On August 31 the league released an official statement on the status of the league. The official figure: 131 players had tested positive for COVID-19, with 57 of those cases already fully recovered. This was two days before the season started.
It was not clear how Barys would play, or if they would use players from a development team to start the season. Kunlun urgently moved operations from China to Mytishchi. COVID-19 also broke the pre-season training of several teams. Spartak ended its preseason altogether, Siberia withdrew from a tournament, and Amur suffered numerous positive cases.
To be clear, the KHL can not be compared to the NHL because the KHL is not operating in bubbles. Teams are traveling to away arenas where fans are allowed to attend games, albeit in reduced capacity.
Sergei Dobrokhvalov, KHL vice president for marketing and communications, addressed the ‘bubble’ idea back in the preseason.
“We considered this option when we made a decision to suspend or cancel the previous season. Unfortunately, there are not many places in Russia that could accommodate such a number of teams when it comes to the regular season. There are the required number of arenas in Moscow, Sochi, perhaps in a couple of other regions, but at the same time we are not going to deprive the team of home ice and the opportunity for fans to see the team.”
It was clear from the onset, the league was aware of the issues, but decided to press on.
KHL President Alexei Morozov issued a statement regarding the current state of the league early on Wednesday. Below is a translation of the statement:
“We accepted the information from Lokomotiv that the situation was force majeure: the situation had already happened in Sochi before the game, the team had no opportunity to replace players with a reserve squad. Thus, we gave time to conduct additional testing and fully understand what was happening. Therefore, the situation was considered as a reason for the postponement. When postponing the match with Minsk, we were guided by the same logic. The players of the reserve squad did not have the opportunity in such a short time to issue a permit to travel abroad. We agreed that they will answer today or tomorrow on the situation with the match on September 25.
The management of “Torpedo” notified the KHL that several players and club employees were showing symptoms of SARS. Coronavirus test results have confirmed four people. Now Torpedo has eight officially confirmed by Rospotrebnadzor. As already mentioned, we also isolate players with ARVI symptoms – despite the fact that they have negative PCR tests. Thus, at “Torpedo” most of the players of the main team were placed in isolation. There was no time left for the submission of all the necessary documents for crossing the border by the players of the youth team, therefore such a decision was made. Now the club is deciding the situation with other matches.
SKA has initially positive test results, and while we are waiting for confirmation from Rospotrebnadzor. Today the army team will play a match with “Siberia”, and we are very grateful to the SKA leadership that in this situation they do not ask for the postponement of games, but are looking for all the reserves so as not to break the calendar.
The residents of Riga understand that they need to resolve all organizational issues, including questions about the composition. We are of the same opinion that the club should find players in the reserve squad. The League has sent an official letter to the Latvian government, in which it asks to consider the possibility of canceling the mandatory check by express tests during customs inspection. We have detailed everything: how and with what regularity is testing in the KHL. We are waiting for an official response.
“Neftekhimik” flew home, and then to St. Petersburg? The team decided to play it safe and returned to their base. We carried out additional testing, got the facts, realized that they could play. Once again, it confirms: health and safety come first for all of us.
In “Spartak” there are seven recovered hockey players and three patients. The league has no right to divulge the names of patients in accordance with the law on personal data.
The League makes informed decisions by collecting all the information. It remains to repeat that we warned everyone in advance. We answer all calls and letters. Constantly in contact with all participants, “- said the functionary.
That is not a glowing report.
The General Director of Torpedo added: “I do not rule out that office workers will soon have to go out on the ice”
The KHL was one of the last sports leagues to cancel their season back in March when the virus originally paralyzed the sports world. They were in the early stages of the playoffs and league officials seemed determined to finish the season, regardless. The postseason was ultimately cancelled when teams outside of Russia, like Jokerit, pulled out of the postseason on their own accord.
Its difficult to see the KHL season being played out at this point. Trends related to the virus are simply going in the wrong direction, with no signs of improving in the near future.
The question remains, should Capitals’ prospects, Aliaksei Protas and Alex Alexeyev, who are on loan to KHL teams due to the COVID-19 shutdown of leagues in North America, leave their teams? Both players have already incurred close calls with opposing teams that tested positive after games.Protas’ coach and two of his teammates tested positive yesterday.
President Morozov was asked about the possibility of cancelling the season on Wednesday.
“I already answered this question a week ago. At the moment we are not considering this option. Of course, the situation with the pandemic is difficult, and it is impossible to foresee its development, but today there is no need to suspend the championship. There is no need to get ahead of ourselves: we are acting according to the situation.”
The hour is getting late. Both players are getting excellent experience right now, but at what potential cost? It’s likely the Capitals will leave the decision up to the players themselves. If they don’t pull them now, they should consider doing so in the coming days and weeks if the situation continues to deteriorate.
By Jon Sorensen