Add another chapter to the saga that has been the KHL’s handling of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
One day after the league announced that it plans to suspend the post-season until April 10, a decision that came after leagues throughout Europe, Asia and North America shut down their seasons in an attempt to stem the spread of COVID-19, one of the league’s top title contenders is calling on the league to outright cancel the remainder of the playoffs.
In a statement Wednesday, Ak Bars Kazan has requested the KHL end the 2019-20 season without naming a champion. The club expressed its concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and said a return to play could put players, staff and their families at risk of contracting the virus. In addition, Ak Bars stated that players and staff have made requests to return to their families, adding that the team has “no moral right to refuse them.” The current Kazan roster features three players from Canada, two from Sweden, one Belarusian and one Finn.
Ak Bars is making this request at a time when it has every opportunity to win its second title in three seasons and fifth title since the formation of the Russian Superleague. Kazan, who ended the regular season atop the league's Western Conference, finished with the second-most wins and in a tie for the second-highest point total in the KHL.
Ak Bars’ request to have the remainder of the season stricken comes days after a pair of KHL clubs voluntarily withdrew from the post-season. Over the weekend, Jokerit Helsinki became the first team to back out, followed by Barys Nur-Sultan. As a result of the withdrawals, the KHL announced that a resumed playoff – if the post-season were, indeed, to begin again on April 10 – would be reformatted to accommodate the six teams that remained. However, beginning in mid-April brings with it its own set of complications as player contracts expire at the end of April. Thus, any restructured tournament would have to conclude in less than three weeks’ time.
Not once since the establishment of the KHL in 2008-09 has a top champion not been named, and there has been a champion in Russia, and the Soviet Union prior, dating all the way back to 1946-47.
The KHL has not commented on Ak Bars’ request.
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