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Monday, September 2, 2013

2013-14 Preview: Dinamo Riga

For Dinamo Riga in 2012-13, "disaster" was the operative word.  After making the playoffs in each of the KHL's first four seasons, Dinamo crashed to last in the West Conference, as absolutely nothing worked for them either offensively or defensively (the less said about the Rob Schremp experiment, the better).  It was a startling comedown by the team that used to be the class of the league's non-Russian contingent.  The season did end on a good note, however, as Dinamo won the inaugural Nadezhda Cup.

2012-13 Record: 13W - 4 OTW - 4OTL - 31L for 51 points -- 24th in the KHL -- 14th in the West Conf. -- 7th in the Bobrov Div. -- Missed Playoffs (Won Nadezhda Cup)

INCOMING: F Mārtiņš Cipulis (Lev) | F Marcel Haščák (Kosice [Slovak ExtraL]) | F Marcel Hossa (Lev) | F Artūrs Kuzmenkovs (Metalurgs Liepaja [BEL]) | F Aleksandrs Ņiživijs (Lev) | F Kārlis Ozoliņš (Metalurgs Liepaja [BEL]) | D Sandis Ozoliņš (Atlant) | D Georgijs Pujacs (Avangard) | D Mat Robinson (Timrå [SEL]) | G Jakub Sedláček (Zlin [Czech ExtraL]) | D Edgars Siksna (Metalurgs Liepaja [BEL]) | F Kyle Wilson (Norfolk Admirals [AHL]

OUTGOING: F Elvijs Biezais (Jokipojat [FIN-2]) | D Guntis Galviņš (Yugra) | G Kristers Gudļevskis (Syracuse Crunch [AHL]) | F Jamie Johnson (Hershey Bears [AHL] F Mārtiņš Karsums (Dynamo Moscow) | F Miks Lipsbergs (Jokipojat [FIN-2]) | D Jēkabs Rēdlihs (Unknown)

Coach: Artis Ābols (since November, 2012)

Dinamo have made some very interesting moves this summer, but it remains to be seen just far improved the team is.  Gone is their former captain, Karsums; his reward for three solid seasons in Riga was a move to powerhouse Dynamo Moscow.  Jamie Johnson, fourth among forward in points last season, has departed as well.  Dinamo have also sent away two of their defensive workhorses, in Galviņš and Rēdlihs.  Promising young goalie Kristers Gudļevskis turned enough heads among North American scouts to earn himself a place in the AHL.  And finally, veteran forward Ģirts Ankipāns retired to join the Dinamo coaching staff after splitting last season between the farm team and the big club.  So there have definitely been some key departures.

There are important new arrivals too, however.  Sandis Ozoliņš may be over 40, but he was really quite good for Atlant last year, and Dinamo will be hoping that he has one more season like it in him.  Further veteran help for the defense corps has also arrived, in the form of Pujacs, and Mat Robinson has provided some blue line scoring in his career, albeit in lesser leagues.  Marcel Hossa, newly arrived at forward, is a famous name, although he really has not been a scorer in the KHL for several seasons.  Far more important to Dinamo, in my opinion, is Marcel Haščák, fresh from tearing up the Slovak league (31-33-64 in 51 games last season).  As an added bonus, Haščák is only 26 years old.  Further offensive help should be coming from Kyle Wilson, who has good AHL numbers in his past.  Finally, we should probably keep an eye on Kuzmenkovs.  He will not turn 20 until this December, but had a good season in the Belarusan league in 2012-13, posting a line of 12-23-35 in 43 games.  Kuzmenkovs will no doubt face a steep learning curve in the KHL, but the boy can play.

Those newcomers are interesting, but Dinamo have kept a hold on some important pieces as well.  On defense, Krišjānis Rēdlihs (brother of Jēkabs), last year's top scorer among d-men, will return, as will the steady Arvīds Reķis (-2 in 2012-13 in 39 games, when the team was -42 overall).  Up front, Paul Szczechura is still in Riga - despite being described, per EliteProspects, as "better defensively than offensively," he managed to finish second on the team in points last season, with 28 in 43 games (that tells you something about what last season was like for Dinamo).  However, by far the most important player retained by Dinamo is Miks Indrašis, and not because of his role in last season's stunning and unlikely victory over SKA in St. Petersburg.  At only 21 years old, he led his team in goals last year, scored 14-12-26 in 43 games overall, and generally must be considered one of the most promising young Latvian players out there.  The NHL has come sniffing around Indrašis, as the Vancouver Canucks invited him to their summer development camp in July, but Dinamo have managed to hold onto him so far, and the longer they manage to keep doing so, the better for them.  I am quite fascinated to see how Indrašis does in this coming season.

Some questions remain in goal, unfortunately for Dinamo.  The team looks set to once again hand the starting job to Mikael Tellqvist, who gave them a sub-mediocre .909 save percentage last season (that number ranked him 30th in the KHL).  His backup will probably be Sedláček, who has been a solid if not spectacular performer in the Czech league over the last few seasons.  Last year's backup for Dinamo, Māris Jučers, is in camp on a try-out basis, and could provide an insurance policy, if not an airtight one.  The uncertainty surrounding the state of the goaltending is probably the main reason that rumours have been floating around about the possibility of Edgars Masaļskis returning to Dinamo.  I hate to say it, but such a move would not likely solve anything, as Masaļskis has not been a very good goalie over the last few seasons.

Setting the bar:  Well, let us begin by saying the success means not repeating last season's disaster, and that should be easy enough for Dinamo to manage.  However, to make the playoffs, they would have to pick up roughly half again as many points as they did last year, and I cannot see that happening either.  I would say that in order to count this season as a step forward, Dinamo need to be still realistically in the playoff race when the new year begins, even if they do not qualify in the end.  Keeping Indrašis around would be a very good thing too!

Next up: Lokomotiv Yaroslavl!

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