Saturday, November 26, 2011

APK meeting: No Slovak teams next year, clubs request full rosters for December tournaments

At Thursday's meeting of the Association of Professional Clubs (APK), the board that governs the Czech Extraliga had a couple of important issues to discuss. One was over a club's right to retain players from the national team, as some clubs are in a dispute with the national team about conflicting tournaments in December. The other was about who will play in the Extraliga next year, as two Slovak clubs have recently requested entry. The only thing that has been decided for certain is that there will be no change next season; there will be no expansion and no Slovak teams in 2012-13.

Plzeň 1929 (blue) and Slovan Bratislava (white) at the European
Trophy in August. They won't face each other on the 2012-13
Czech Extraliga schedule. Photo: Milan Podpera, hcplzen.cz.
"We need more time to evaluate whether it makes sense to expand the league," said Karlovy Vary general manager Miroslav Vaňek. Not only were Slovak clubs from Bratislava and Košice seeking entry for next season, but also Czech First League clubs in Chomutov and Ústí nad Labem. The feeling among existing teams seemed to be that this is an issue worth considering, but there were too many issues that have to be ironed out to make it go smoothly, and there simply wasn't enough time to make it happen in time for next season.

"If we decide that this will have a financial benefit for us, and bring in larger crowds, well then let's do it. But we had to decide quickly and we didn't have enough time for it. In the long term, I think that the globalisation of the league will be difficult to avoid."

With so many clubs wanting to join the Extraliga, some are concerned with the number of teams that would end up in the league. "We keep hearing that we need to improve the quality and possibly reduce the number of teams in the Extraliga," said Pardubice general manger Zbyněk Kusý. "Now to accommodate these teams we would have to expand to 16, 18 or 20 teams. I don't think that's the direction we want to go in."

Kusý also said that there was some discussion about the concern of his and other clubs who will be participating in tournaments in December to be able to utilise their full rosters. Pardubice, Plzeň and České Budějovice will all be playing in the Red Bulls Salute, the playoff round to determine the 2011 European Trophy, from December 16 to 18. The national team plays the Channel One Cup that same weekend in Chomutov and Moscow, and they want to bring with them some of the top players from these clubs. As well, Vítkovice plays in the Spengler Cup after Christmas, and therefore has re-scheduled a regular season game for that weekend. Another meeting for next Wednesday, involving all concerned parties, has been scheduled.

"An official standard is needed that will somehow be respected by all parties," he said. "Everything is evolving and the contract will need to be continually upgraded with respect to other associations and leagues."

Kusy and the representatives of other participating teams are taking the European Trophy seriously, and are concerned that they will be stripped of their best players without being able to replace them, while clubs from other countries will apparently be coming at full strength. The national team, meanwhile, has a large field of players to choose from, for a tournament that is little more than an opportunity to audition for roster spots for the World Championships in the spring. Among the players that are likely to be selected are Pardubice captain Petr Koukal and Budějovice starting goaltender Jakub Kovář.

Some have suggested that the European Trophy, which this season involved 24 clubs from six European leagues who each played eight-game pre-season schedules against each other, could eventually evolve into a pan-European league that will be the highest level of hockey on the continent, potentially rivaling the KHL and NHL for top talent. Therefore, Kusý believes it's important for the Czech teams to perform well, and for  national governing bodies not to be dismissive of the tournament.

"In my opinion, this new European tournament could evolve into something very important and how well Czech teams do could affect our participation in future European competitions." he said. "If I have the right information, all teams (from other countries) are going at full strength. Everyone told me it is a prestigious tournament for them, so they're going in full force."

At the meeting, the league also discussed the possibility of bringing in a salary cap in order to control costs.

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