Datsyuk, Kovalchuk Win 2017 Gagarin Cup With SKA St. Petersburg
SKA overwhelmed defending champion Metallurg Magnitogorsk, claiming the Gagarin Cup on Sunday in just five games for its second title in three years.
St. Petersburg went 16-2 in the playoffs, led by a team packed full of NHL talent, boasting names such as Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk.
Datsyuk's departure from Detroit this past summer left many Detroit Red Wings fans with a bitter taste in their mouths, but their palates should be a tad sweeter knowing he was able to achieve the ultimate goal one last time.
Similar to the end of his NHL career, Datsyuk remained productive, but injuries held him out for much of the season.
Datsyuk, who was named captain of SKA in place of Kovalchuk ahead of the season, appeared in seven of SKA's 18 playoff games, recording three goals and five assists for eight points in that time. He sat out the final game but hoisted the Cup with Kovalchuk from the bench.
The soon-to-be 39-year-old Datsyuk has one year left on his contract with SKA, but injuries and his latest championship win could see him call it a career in the coming months. He could, however, use the offseason to get healthy and return for SKA's defense of the Gagarin Cup next year.
Kovalchuk, 34, skated in his fourth KHL season since retiring from the NHL in 2013. After a career-high 25 goals and 78 points during 60 regular-season games, Kovalchuk added just six goals and nine points in SKA's 18 postseason games.
Metallurg goaltender Vasily Koshechkin was named the playoffs MVP, just the third goaltender in KHL history to win the award. In 17 games, Koshechkin posted a .940 save percentage and 2.15 GAA.
Now that the postseason has concluded, teams will shift their focus on an uncertain offseason, with rumors of the KHL cutting teams due to financial concerns.
Coincidentally, the NHL's recent choice to forgo the 2018 Olympics has left many players upset, and Igor Esmantovich, president of CSKA Moscow, has been vocal about wooing Russian players to return to the KHL with an eye on the upcoming international tournament.
CSKA has won three straight Continental Cups as the best regular-season team.
Should franchises get cut and Esmantovich successfully bring players back, teams will have a much larger group of free agents to choose from as they get ready for the next KHL season.
SKA and Metallurg will be at the forefront of player interest.
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