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Saturday, August 31, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Slovan Bratislava

I do not think that Slovan Bratislava could have any complaints about last season.  The KHL's oldest team, ironically in its first year in the league, made the playoffs in a comfortable 6th place, and there was no shame at all in the first-round sweep by Dynamo Moscow.  Slovan's record of 11-5 in overtime and shootout games helped (if those number had been switched, they would probably have missed the playoffs), but it was still a very decent performance.

2012-13 Record: 17W - 11OTW - 5 OTL - 19L for 78 points -- 13th in the KHL -- 6th in the West Conf. -- 3rd in the Bobrov Div. -- Lost 4-0 to Dynamo Moscow in the Conf. QFs

INCOMING: D Ján Brejčák (Litvinov [Czech ExtraL]) | G Miroslav Kopřiva (Slavia Prague [Czech ExtraL]) | D Zdeněk Kutlák (Ambrì-Piotta [NLA]) | F Richard Mráz (Orange 20 [Slovak ExtraL]) | F Tomáš Netík (Neftekhimik) | D Martin Škoula (Lev)

OUTGOING: D Ivan Ďatelinka (Unknown) | G Branislav Konrád (Unknown) | F Milan Kytnár (Unknown) | F Ján Lipiansky (Retired) | F Miroslav Šatan (Unknown) | D Andrej Sekera (Carolina Hurricanes [NHL]) | D Ivan Švarný (Medveščak) | Marek Svatoš (Unknown) | D Ján Tabaček (Tappara [SM-liiga])

Coach: Rostislav Čada (since May, 2012)

Compared to some of the teams that we have looked at, Slovan Bratislava have been an oasis of calm this summer.  Up front, their top 6 forwards in terms of points remain, although one should point out that Slovan were the lowest-scoring playoff team in the entire KHL this past season (124 goals, tied with Sibir Novosibirsk). Michel Miklík is probably the best of that lot, along with Michal Vondrka, and they will be joined in 2013-14 by Netík, who arrives from Nizhnekamsk in what looks like a solid pickup by the Slovaks. Libor Hudáček, the team's leading goal-scorer last season with 11, is still around as well.  There are no world-beaters in the Slovan forward lineup, and they will likely struggle for goals again, but there are some useful players there.

Slovan did lose a couple of big names from the forward corps over the off-season, none bigger than long-time NHLer Miroslav Šatan.  Šatan actually led the team in points per game in 2012-13; however, there are a couple of factors that suggest that his departure will not be insurmountable.  First of all, he is nearly 39 years old.  Secondly, he played only 21 games last season, due to two concussive encounters with Lev's Zdeno Chára that apparently put an end to the friendship between the two men.  I will actually be a little bit surprised if Šatan plays again.  The other big name to depart Slovan this summer was Lipiansky, a Slovak league veteran almost since the time the country gained independence.  Lipiansky will stay with Slovan as an assistant coach.

Similar stability ruled on Slovan's defense this summer, but that may not have been for the best.  Gone are Tabaček and Švarný, who were important pieces, but they have been replaced, hopefully, by Brejčák and Kutlák, not to mention former NHL player Škoula.  Among the players who remain from last year, Tomáš Mojžíš and Jonathan Sigalet are key, and it looks like Slovan have an up-and-comer in 22-year-old Martin Štajnoch.  Last year's defense was fine (despite the scoring woes, Slovan were only -3 on the season), but that was a unit that enjoyed the presence of Lubomir Višnovský and Andrej Sekera during the NHL lockout, and they have not come close to replacing those guys, unsurprisingly.  Slovan's blue line in 2013-14 should be ok, but it certainly will not be better.

That leaves much in the hands of 23-year-old goalie Jaroslav Janus, who played 47 of Slovan's games last season and did very well (.928 save percentage).  There were rumours in the Spring that Tampa Bay was interested in signing Janus, but fortunately for Slovan nothing has come of them so far.  Behind a skating lineup that is unspectacular but not terrible, Janus will make a very big difference for Slovan if he can repeat last season's strong play.

I would be remiss here if I did not mention the departure of former Oklahoma City Baron Milan Kytnár.  Kytnár had the honour of scoring Slovan's first ever KHL goal last September - a historic moment!  However, he scored only 4 more, to go with 5 assists, over the rest of the season, and is now a free agent.

Setting the bar: Was Slovan's policy of sitting tight on the roster the right move?  Well... maybe.  I suspect that they will be caught this season by Atlant at least, and there some other candidates to do so as well.  However, this is a decent sort of team, so let us say that success will involve equaling last season's playoff berth, no more and no less.  Getting beyond the first round would a stunning accomplishment, since it would very likely mean that Slovan had knocked out one of the West's big three (Dynamo Moscow, SKA, or CSKA).

Next up: Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk!

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