He is only 38 years old and has been the Chief European Scout of the NHL Central Scouting for fourteen seasons. His direct supervisor is Göran Stubb who is still working at 85 years old. “He’s still going strong,” says Janne Vuorinen (photo: Heikki Löfman), Director of Player Personnel Jokerit Helsinki, convincingly. In the interview we talked mainly about Jokerit Helsinki in the KHL.
In the summer of 2013 Harry Harkimo sold Hartwall Arena to a Finnish-Russian businessman Gennady Timchenko (president of HC SKA) along with an option to buy a share of the team after the 2013–2014 season. Was that the reason why Jokerit started playing in the KHL in season 2014/15?
“I can’t comment much because I didn’t work for the Jokerit at the time. I only became part of the Jokerit a half year later. I think the big idea was that players can improve more in a better league and to try to improve hockey in Finland. And also to get the Helsinki team into an international competition.”
In 2019 Harry Harkimo bought all the shares from minor owners Gennadi Timchenko and the Rotenbergs, and sold all the shares of the club to the ice hockey legend Jari Kurri. Is Jari still interested in playing in the KHL or is there a possibility that the Jokerit will return to SM-Liiga?
“It is a long term plan to stay in KHL and we don’t think about returning to the SM-liiga. Owners are committed for Jokerit to play in the Kontinental Hockey League.”
The KHL is a very strong league and since the season 2014/15 Jokerit played five times in the playoffs (year 2019/20 did not finish due to the pandemic), three times in the quarter-final and two times in the semi-final conference. How satisfied are you with the team results?
“From the moment we entered the league we always got into the play offs (now seven years in a row) and the play off is always our minimum goal. In the future we want to be more successful in the crucial part of the season and sometimes win the Gagarin Cup. This is our goal. But we are mainly satisfied with the results. It is the best league in Europe and we try to have the best team we can have.”
In the roster of Jokerit this season, approximately half of the team are home players and the other half are very good foreigners such as Peter Regin, Brian O”Neill, Nicklas Jensen, Anders Lindbäck, Jakub Krejčík. Does Finnish hockey (and also Finnish national team) help the Jokerit play in the KHL?
“I would like to correct it, so that two thirds are Finns and one third are foreigners. Our goal is to have the best Finnish players in the lineup, but it is not possible to play this strong league with them alone. We also need quality foreigners to be competitive. If it is possible to sign the top of a Finnish player we try.”
Jokerit has an average home attendance in season 2019/20 of 8,845 fans (capacity Hartwall Arena is 13 350 seats) and that is the second highest of all Nordic ice hockey clubs (first is Frölunda Indians with 10,579 fans). Are you satisfied with this number?
“We would need a little more and we would be happy with the number over ten thousand, but for KHL conditions it’s a good number. It’s not easy to get that number of people into the arena, because we have competition from other sports and interests of people. I am sure that if we went to the finals, I think we would get average over ten thousand in future seasons.”
Jokerit Helsinki collected almost 570 000 euros for the sale of television rights from KHL after season 2019/20 (which is the most of all teams). Are you happy with this number or would you need more from the TV Deal?
“The league has its own system of sharing money for the sale of television rights and other incomes. Rankings of teams depend on seven different attributes. In overall ranking we are the first or the second and we are satisfied with that because you have to be for example successful in sports compared to player budget to get such a good ranking.”
Today, the KHL plays twelve teams in the eastern conference and eleven in the western. Slovan Bratislava (western conference) played in the KHL for six years from the 2012/13 to the 2018/19 season but then it had financial problems and terminated their activities. Slovan has a new rich owner and the management said that they will not play in the KHL next season, however, everything is open after that. One russian journalist told me. “For me, the plan to create a competitive roster seems dubious. There are not many good Slovak players to choose from and KHL doesn’t need another team with a lot of marginal players from AHL.” What is your personal opinion?
“I really liked when Slovan was in the league. The city is nice, the arena is excellent and the fans are great. If they have solid new owners, they have a great potential to have a good team in the KHL and this league could be good for them. I would like to see this team back in the league again. I think that Slovakia has enough quality hockey players for the KHL and when the best wear a Slovan jersey, they can play a dignified role in the competition. But you also need a very good management to build that.”
You are the Chief European Scout of the NHL Central Scouting. It means that your boss is the Director of European Scouting of the NHL Central Scouting Services, Göran Stubb, who is 85 years old? What does your job look like for this organization?
“Yes, Göran Stubb is still working and he is still going strong. My job is to scout players in various tournaments and help the CSS in various aspects. We have scouts in every best hockey country (two in Finland and one in Sweden, Russia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic) and some local helpers in smaller countries. We do reports from matches throughout the season and twice a year rankings of every european player.”