Kuznetsov works out with the Russian National Team.
The last couple of weeks have been pretty crazy for the Caps fans: the late -season, nerve-wracking, but ultimately successful playoff push; the first round series against the Bruins with Thomas-vs-Obama-gate, Karl Alzner waking the bear, Brad Marchand’s impeccable impersonation of Greg Louganis, Nicky Backstrom’s return as Mean Lars — and even some pretty decent hockey at times.
Meanwhile, half a world away, at Team Russia’s training facility Novogorsk, the Caps’ highly touted prospect, Evgeny Kuznetsov, is quietly preparing for his first World Championship tournament (at least when the power doesn’t go out). Kuznetsov found some time to talk to the Dinara Kafiskina of Sportbox.ru about his KHL playoff experience, his chances to make Team Russia’s final roster for the, and… ah, who are we kidding? We know you only care about one thing: Is Kuzya coming to Washington? Sure enough, that very question comes up at the very end of the interview.
Follow us past the jump for our translation and analysis.
Dinara Kafiskina: You have been tortured by this question. But, nevertheless, are you leaving for the NHL next year or not?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: It was decided a long time ago, but nobody knows anything about it yet. Nothing can be disclosed yet, because I am still under a valid contract. But I have decided everything for myself.
We have heard similar answers from Kuznetsov for a while now. But let’s put this latest pronouncement in context of another interview– one by Kuznetsov’s current employer, Traktor’s General Manager Vladimir Krechin, who earlier this week addressed the club’s plans for the next season in his conversation with Chelyabinsk internet portal MediaZavod.ru:
I want to dispel all the various rumors [about Kuznetsov]: if Zhenya stays, it will only be with Traktor. If he leaves, it will only be for the NHL. The [KHL] regulations exist, and we will not allow him to leave for another KHL club. He has two options: either Traktor, or NHL.
There are three possible avenues for Kuznetsov to pursue in the offseason:
Option 2 is seemingly taken off the table by the latest Traktor management statement. Their stated position leaves very little wiggle room: they intend to keep Kuznetsov. While it may appear unwise to let their homegrown star go to the NHL for nothing in return, trading Kuznetsov to a rival could be a disaster from a PR perspective. Traktor fans have indicated they would be more understanding to lose Kuznetsov to the NHL rather than another KHL team.
Option 1 is still possible, of course – but if in fact Kuzya decided to re-sign and already has a new deal with Chelyabinsk, saying he cannot disclose the contract’s details makes no sense since his current contract is with the same team. If there is no deal yet, he only weakens his negotiating position. In fact, in another interview with Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport yesterday, Kuznetsov said that no one from Traktor has been in contact with him since his KHL season ended a couple of weeks ago. Traktor did make a new contract offer to Kuznetsov earlier in the season, but it clearly was not acceptable. So that decision Zhenya keeps talking about does not seem to be to stay in Chelyabinsk.
As for Option 3… well, that is the most straightforward one, and it fits quite well with “I already made the decision” mantra. Kuznetsov knows what kind of deal he would get with the Capitals (probably the maximum-allowable, three-year, entry-level contract with performance-based incentives). So, if the decision has truly been made, and the announcement is simply held off until Kuzya’s current contract runs out on April 30th, it has got to be the NHL.
Unless Kuznetsov’s latest answer to the big question is a prank from a naughty teenager, our chances of seeing Kuznetsov rocking the red next year may not be as bleak as they seemed only a few weeks ago.
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