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Friday, August 23, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Spartak Moscow

Spartak have been, in the last couple of years, by far the weakest of the three grand old Soviet teams that play in Moscow, and last season saw them hit a new nadir.  In 2012-13, Spartak scored fewer goals than any other team in the West Conference.  They compensated for this by giving up the most goals in the conference (ok, it was a three-way tie, but still...).  Spartak, clearly, have a very long way to go to find respectability, but they did take some steps in the right direction this off-season.

2012-13 Record: 11W - 6OTW - 7 OTL - 28L for 52 points -- 23rd in the KHL -- 13th in the West Conf. -- 7th in the Tarasov Div. -- Missed Playoffs (lost 3-0 to Dinamo Minsk in Nadezhda Cup QFs).

INCOMING: F Matt Anderson (Albany Devils [AHL]) | F Dmitry Chernykh (Metallurg Novokuznetsk) | F Nikita Feoktistov (No Team) | D Kirill Gavrilychev (Izhstal Izhevsk [VHL]) | G Jeff Glass (Sibir) | F Denis Ignashin (Saryarka Karaganda [VHL]) | G Alexei Ivanov (Yermak Angarsk [VHL]) | F Alexei Krutov (Neftekhimik) | D Dmitry Megalinsky (Metallurg Novokuznetsk) | F Ilya Nekolenko (Atlant) | D Alexander Nesterov (Avangard) | F Alexander Nikulin (Sibir) | D Deron Quint (Traktor) | D Alexander Ryazantsev (Severstal) | D Andrei Sergeyev (CSKA) | F Rastislav Spirko (Avtomobilist) | F Igor Volkov (Avangard) | F Tom Wandell (Dallas Stars)

OUTGOING: G Sergei Borisov (Atlant) | D Alexander Budkin (Dynamo Moscow) | F Nikolai Bushuyev (Severstal) | G Jan Lasak (Unknown) | F Yegor Mikhailov (Unknown) | F Branko Radivojevic (Neftekhimik) | F Alexander Romanovsky (THK Tver [VHL]) | D Nikita Shchitov (Neftekhimik) | D Andrei Shefer (Yugra) | F Alexander Suglobov (Unknown) | G Alexei Yakhin (Yuzhny Ural Orsk [VHL]) | D Artёm Zemchёnok (Admiral)

Not listed is forward Eduard Lewandowski, who both came and went this off-season.

Coach: Fёdor Kanareikin (since October 2012)

One revealing factoid about Spartak Moscow last season: They used five different goalies in 52 games, and four of them were below-average to poor.  The only one who was not, namely junior 'keeper Pavel Suchkov, played just 66 minutes, and is also the only one of the five who remains with the team.  The new starter will be Jeff Glass, and that is a heck of a pickup for Spartak.  Glass posted the KHL's 5th-best save percentage (.933) with Sibir last season, and by that measure he was the league's top goalie to switch teams this summer.  Now, 2012-13 was the first time Glass had numbers anywhere near that good, so regression is a worry, but he is only 27, so it is also possible that he is hitting his stride.  In any case the backup will be Alexei Ivanov, who was simply superb (.942 save%) in the VHL last season.  It is probably safe to say that Spartak are much, much, better in goal.

Spartak's other moves are not as significant.  The team did send away its top three points-per-game forwards (Stephan Ruzicka, who left during the 12-13 season, Suglobov, and Radivojevic), but given the woeful state of the offense last season, that may be a case of the ol' addition by subtraction.  On defense, Spartak will probably miss Shaone Morrisonn, traded late last season, more than any of the off-season departures.

Spartak, as befits a small-budget team, have mostly gone after decent VHLers, solid KHL journeymen, young projects, and the like as replacements at the skating positions.  At least some of those guys are going to have to face the opposition's best, and that probably will not go well.  However, Ryazantsev was very good on defense for Severstal last season, Matt Anderson has put up decent AHL numbers, and Wandell has NHL experience.  There is some interesting homegrown talent around the place as well, particularly defenseman Grigory Zheldakov.  In 2012-13, Zheldakov played 39 games for Spartak, albeit only 13 minutes a night, and somehow managed to come away with a positive +/- despite the team's awfulness.  He was also only 19 years old when the season began, so this is definitely a player to keep track of.  And if you are looking for a sentimental reason to follow Spartak, I give you the acquisition of forward Alexei Krutov, son of the late Vladimir (unfortunately, the younger Krutov does not seem to have inherited his father's amazing skill).

Setting the bar: I think that Spartak have actually done a fairly good job this summer, all in all, but how much better will they be when the games start being played?  I think it is unreasonable to expect Spartak to make the playoffs in 2013-14 - success this season will mean being still involved in the hunt when we get to the Olympic break (and maybe a nice run in the Nadezhda Cup thereafter).  That is certainly doable for the team, especially if Glass keeps up his stellar play.  Actually qualifying for the playoffs would be a unexpected triumph.

Next up: Amur Khabarovsk!

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