A few weeks after signing a massive contract that made him the NHL’s eighth-highest-paid center, Evgeny Kuznetsov spoke to Sport-Express’s Aleksei Shevchenko about his new eight-year deal, the Capitals’ apparent “second-round complex,” and whether Alex Ovechkin deserves the recent criticism he’s received.
“I’m going to give you my prediction now, and you’re going to remember it come spring,” Kuznetsov said. “He’s going to score 50 goals.”
Kuznetsov was also asked about Ovechkin’s conditioning after a shirtless video of the Russian machine went viral at his wedding.
“Everyone is overweight,” Kuznetsov said. “It’s summer, well before the start of the season. He’ll get in shape.”
A translation of the Sport-Express conversation is below.
So you’ve signed this huge contract with Washington, in not just financial terms, but length as well. I’m certain they’re going to squeeze every cent out of you.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Agreed. But overall that contract isn’t just about money, it’s about the trust that [the Capitals] have put in me. They’re counting on me. And the responsibility is going to be different, too. But I don’t know any good players who would try and avoid that. Everyone wants the huge responsibilities, for everyone to listen to what they say.”
Before, people used to think that Russian players would start spending their big money once they got it, and that they’d forget how to earn it.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Those times are over. But right now, I feel a little awkward [about how much the Capitals paid].”
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Training isn’t exactly coming together. I hadn’t been to Chelyabinsk much [before this summer], so people keep inviting me to events and stuff. But another couple of days and I’ll start training hard. I’m not the type to sit back and relax. Yeah, on the one hand, you don’t change at all because of the pay. but on the other, it’s still a clarion call for an athlete. Your career doesn’t stop [once you get paid].”
I know you’re always very concerned about the team’s results. What happens to you guys in the second round of the playoffs?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Well, we played a bit better this year than last. Last year, we didn’t have such a great chance of moving forward [beyond the second round]. This time, we were really close to getting through Pittsburgh. In the first few games, we were outplaying our opponent, but they stayed ahead on the scoreboard. Then we took things into our own hands, and at the end… I don’t know what happened in Game Seven.”
You have no idea at all?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Some people never see those types of Game Sevens in their [whole] careers. But we’re definitely stronger now psychologically, and wiser.”
Dmitry Orlov says you guys have a second-round complex.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “More like that’s what you guys are writing about. I personally don’t feel anything like that. Maybe the older guys experience something. Maybe some sort of stupor sets in, but I don’t think that is very deeply rooted in us.”
You won the President’s Trohpy. But maybe it’s not worth putting so much effort into the regular season, though, of course, when I proposed that to you during the year you got mad.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Yeah, and I’m ready to repeat a couple of those words right now. How can you think that we would play at less than full power? Seriously, how? Like, we come out on the ice and agree amongst ourselves that we’re going to lose and not try tonight? You don’t do that, that just doesn’t happen. We have to win everywhere and all the time. Yes, you can’t win all the time, but our opponents should be seriously pleased with themselves if they beat [us]. Everyone needs to know that beating us is a real achievement.”
Did you have any bad feelings before Game Seven?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “No. Actually, I remembered all of a sudden how the preseason went, how hard it was for me, how I played all 82 games this season. And I really did not want it to end that night.”
Is Alex Ovechkin already finished?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “I’m going to give you my prediction now, and you’re going to remember it come spring.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “He’s going to score 50 goals.”
What’s the point?
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “We’re talking about what Ovechkin is going to do, not the whole team. He is going to score 50 goals. I can more or less imagine who’s going to play with Ovechkin. Everyone who says that he’s past [his prime] is going to fall silent.”
But he plays poorly in the big games.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “What the heck are you talking about? Yeah, maybe he didn’t play the way he should have in the playoffs, but remember, Ovechkin was playing injured. A lot didn’t work out, but it didn’t sit right with me that Alex was made the scapegoat of our loss.”
He’s one of the guilty ones
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “It doesn’t work like that in hockey, that one person is guilty. For me, everyone is guilty. Yes, some guys didn’t do as much as they could have, but one person can only do so much. Where were all the other forwards when we lost in the series? It’s understood that people want more from Ovechkin [than from the rest of the team], that they pressure him. But don’t you need to ask the same of the other guys?”
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Some guys put in 20 goals in a season and that’s considered an outstanding result. And people calm down. But some guys need to score more, it should be expected from them, too. It’s just that for some, [a 20-goal season] is satisfactory, but Alex gets criticized. I suffered from the same thing.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Well, they say I didn’t have a successful season either. But we’re talking about Ovechkin. I don’t think Alex Ovechkin had an unsuccessful season. He just had some specific difficulties, with which he dealt with his head held high.“
Ovechkin’s problem is that he doesn’t train as much anymore. We all saw the pictures from his wedding. He’s overweight.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Why do you say that kind of stuff? Everyone is overweight. It’s summer, well before the start of the season. He’ll get in shape.”
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I just see how other guys in the NHL work, both veterans and the middle-aged players.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “That’s really debatable. Ovechkin works really hard. I know his personal trainer, I know about what level of work he’s putting in. Alex trains just fine.”
Don’t you think it’s time for a change on the National Team? Oleg Znarok is just not ready for that level of play. We’ve already lost four serious tournaments in a row.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “I understand why you’re asking that question like that. Maybe for journalists he’s not ideal. But it’s different in the locker room.”
It’s just that I’ve seen great coaches. They don’t comport themselves that way.
[Ed. Note: Znarok had an extremely testy exchange with the press after losing to Canada in the semifinal match.]
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “Everyone’s different. You see one Oleg Znarok. With the guys on the team, he’s a completely different person. If you’re on Oleg Valerievich’s team, then you’re like a member of the family. I watch his interviews and I don’t even recognize our coach. It’s like two different people.”
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “I would totally go on a mission with him behind enemy lines, knowing for certain he would never betray me.”
But it’s not wartime right now. Four losses in a row.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “But see, his main goal is the Olympics. I understand he was appointed coach because of the Olympics.“
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “After the Olympics, there might be something to talk about.”
We all saw the World Cup, and our chances seem pretty slim.
Evgeny Kuznetsov: “I don’t think we fell apart during that tournament. We got out of our group, and against the Canadians we played not as poorly as you might have expected. But we all made individual mistakes. I was just a centimeter off from intercepting a puck. You can’t blame just the trainer. You’ve got to ask the same from everyone.”
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