Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov signed an eight-year, $62.4 million contract on Sunday, which made him the eighth highest paid center in the NHL. That deal then in turn forced the Capitals to deal their third-leading goalscorer from last season, Marcus Johansson, to New Jersey in a salary dump.
“We went a little above where we thought we were going to be,” general manager Brian MacLellan said in a call with the media. “I just think the situation Kuznetsov was in, with the ability to go play in Russia for two years and earn as much money or more than he’s making here and then come back as a UFA, he had leverage. We lost our arbitration leverage with his ability to do that. So we had to comply with his demands.”
On Tuesday, Kuznetsov commented on his new contract with Sport-Express’s Igor Eronko and admitted that he seriously considered returning to the KHL.
“Having given me that type of contract extension, Washington made me understand that they really wanted to keep me on the team, and that they’re betting on me as a leader on the team in the near future,” Kuznetsov said as translated by Graham Dumas. “I actually did have several options for my future as a hockey player, and I considered them all, including the notion of returning to the KHL. Clearly the chance to play in the Olympics is a significant factor for all Russian players, and I’m no exception. But it so happened that Washington values me highly and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, as banal as that sounds.
“I know that SKA acquired the rights to me as a KHL player from Traktor after I had already renewed my contract [with the Capitals]. We talked to SKA’s management, and they said that they would always hold a spot for me in the case of another NHL lockout or some other unforeseen circumstance. For now, I play for Washington, but you can never predict what will happen in the future.”
There’s several things to unpack here.
In May, Kuznetsov was reportedly offered a three-year, $18 million contract from gas-rich SKA St. Petersberg during a narrow KHL window when teams can offer contracts to other KHL teams’ restricted free agents. Kuznetsov allegedly turned down or did not respond to that initial offer.
What happened next is up for interpretation.
SKA St. Petersberg said they acquired Kuznetsov’s KHL rights from his hometown team, Trakor Chelyabinsk, for approximately one million dollars the day after Kuznetsov re-signed with the Capitals. Kuznetsov confirmed that in the above interview, but the question then becomes, who was offering Kuznetsov a big-money deal to return to the KHL?
R-Sport, one of the most reputable news sources in Russia, said that SKA and Traktor had agreed — and were waiting to announce — an approximately $3 million transfer agreement of Kuznetsov before July 1.
MacLellan hinted that Kuznetsov was offered a big money two-year deal to come back to Russia, which Kuznetsov’s former KHL team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, could likely not afford. A source confirmed to RMNB that Kuznetsov’s representation seriously threatened to return back to Russia during negotiations.
That seems to suggest that either the Russian reporting was wrong (which is always plausible) or SKA and Traktor’s initial, expensive rights agreement was contingent on Kuznetsov returning home. That also suggests that SKA was speaking to Kuznetsov without officially owning his rights. When Kuznetsov chose to re-sign with the Capitals, SKA and Traktor could have worked out another rights transfer the day after, which they then announced to the press.
While Kuznetsov is now a Capital for the next eight years, his comment in regards to SKA at the end of his quote yet again leaves him some wiggle room to return to Russia.
“We talked to SKA’s management, and they said that they would always hold a spot for me in the case of another NHL lockout or some other unforeseen circumstance,” Kuznetsov said. “For now, I play for Washington, but you can never predict what will happen in the future.”
The current collective bargaining agreement between the NHL and NHL Players Association expires in September 2022. Another way, Kuznetsov could end up in the KHL is if he retires from the NHL early like Ilya Kovalchuk did.
In happier news, a “very happy” Kuznetsov took to Instagram on the Fourth of July to celebrate his new deal and to thank Washington for their “support.”
A post shared by Evgeny Kuznetsov (@kuzy092) on
Translation by Graham Dumas.
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