Temperatures in Europe have hit the thirty degrees Celsius and the transfer market is just as hot. Nevertheless, Salavat Yulayev Ufa and Metallurg Magnitogorsk, Russia´s representatives in the Champions Hockey League, have yet to test the water. Make no mistake, both teams will surely want to end up on top in the inaugural CHL season and are expected to announce a number of big name signings. They have yet to get in their angle in order to catch the biggest fish.
Reigning champions Salavat Yulayev Ufa need to replace a number of solid contributors that left for other Russian teams. Igor Volkov, Stanislav Chistov (Avangard Omsk) and Nikolai Zavarukhin (Magnitogorsk) combined for 45 points last season. On defence, the team lost former NHLer Alexander Boikov and Czech Radek Philipp.
Furthermore, Philipp’s countrymen Milan Hnilicka will return to the Czech Republic. The veteran netminder arrived during the last season and had a solid outing during the regular season but served as a backup in the playoffs.
But the team will not be totally without Czech influence next season. Ufa’s lone confirmed acquisition so far has been forward Leos Cermak from HC Liberec. It will be Cermak’s second stint in Russian hockey after having played for Sibir Novosibirsk in 2002. Last season, the forward averaged a goal every second game and finished fifth overall in scoring during the post season with 11 points from 11 games.
Russia’s other CHL participant, Metallurg Magnitogorsk, will be counting their new Czech arrivals. On defence, Karel Pilar returns to Europe after failing to crack the NHL. Having missed 1.5 seasons due to a heart ailment, he returned to North America but was never given another opportunity in the big league. On offence, Czech national team player Tomas Rolinek chose Russia as his first destination outside his own country. In return for Rolinek, Pardubice acquired Slovakian defenceman Martin Strbak from Metallurg. It remains questionable whether star goaltender Travis Scott will stay with the team after his controversial move from Kolner Haie last season. Newly appointed coach Valeri Belousov (former coach of Avangard Omsk) does know he will have to head into the season without forward Evgeni Gladskikh (to Omsk) and veteran Igor Korolev (to Atlant Mytishchi). The pair combined for nearly 50 points last season.
Despite the weather, both teams managed to keep their cool and haven’t felt the urgency to hit the trigger early as they await the arrival of established players from the NHL or AHL. With needs to be filled for a successful 2008-09 campaign, it’s only a matter of time before we know what’s in store for both teams.