BY BARRY SMITH
Just checking in to give you a better idea of the Russian Super League.
We have now played every team in the league. One thing that really sticks out there is quite a big disparity between the size of the cities and the payrolls.
For example, Omsk has a payroll of $50 million (US), which is the highest payroll in the league. The teams are financed by large corporations or municipality funding. There is no possible way a team here can break even based on ticket sales, concessions and parking.
As well, travel is definitely different than the NHL. Charters are utilized for most trips, but the airport screening and luggage loading is a challenge.
We recently had a trip that had an eight time zone difference. We fly at 6:00 p.m. and arrive at 10:00 a.m. We then go right to the hotel for a meal, sleep for a few hours and go to the rink at 3:00 p.m. We play at 5:00, go to the airport and fly back to St. Petersburg.
My players and management have explained to me that this is the best way. What a "home ice" advantage.
The level of play here is just below that in the NHL.
I do believe that, on a big ice surface, the top five teams here can play the lower half of the NHL and get good results.
As you know, some of the young talent is not leaving to go to the NHL because there is no working agreement between the league and the Russian Hockey Federation, but also because they are being paid well.
I have really enjoyed coaching SKA so far. The players practise extremely well and hard and are very receptive to new training methodology and ideas.
Discipline has been no problem and the language barrier has not been a deterrent.
Almost half the team understands English and I have an assistant coach who is fluent in English, so communication has been very easy.
A longtime assistant NHL coach, last with Phoenix under Wayne Gretzky, Barry Smith is currently the head coach with St. Petersburg of the Russian Super League.