Speaking with co-host Jeff Marek, a fellow top NHL insider, Friedman said that he believes the Capitals weren’t happy about the controversial interview and thought Kuznetsov’s opinions about Peter Laviolette and Alex Alexeyev were unnecessary.
“I think the other thing the Capitals feel here is that they don’t like the fact he did this, because he creates a firestorm or a controversy when they have tried to be supportive of him,” Friedman said. “I think that that’s what’s going to bother them about it, too.”
He added, “[I]f you are going to talk like this you have to have a big year. Kuznetsov has to deliver right now. He has to go out and he has to have a massive season.”
Kuznetsov filmed a Russian language interview with Slippery Ice, co-hosted by former Capital Andre Nikolishin, while he was still in Chelyabinsk weeks ago during the summer. The interview was first published Friday, a day after Kuznetsov’s first Training Camp interview with Caps media. Kuznetsov spoke about his frustration with Peter Laviolette’s system, Alex Alexeyev’s naivety about playing in the top-six, the NHLPA’s lack of support during his drug-test related meeting with Gary Bettman, the source of his trade rumors, the painful back injury he suffered last season , and his positive experience working with a pyschologist. All of it is open and honest, and crucial to understanding Kuznetsov entering his 11th season with the Capitals.
Friedman and Marek spoke about Kuznetsov’s interview and the ramifications of it for several minutes on the podcast. Here’s what was said (the conversation starts at the 25:03 mark):
Jeff Marek: So Evgeny Kuznetsov. None of this should really be a surprise. You’ve reported on trade requests and Washington trying to accommodate, what’s the future of Kuznetsov going to be in Washington, can they get him back or do they need to move him, is there a marketplace, etc. So he recently told a property called Slippery Ice, which by the way is a great, great name for a property, Kuznetsov talks about a meeting with Brian MacLellan, the general manager of the Washington Capitals, about now former Washington coach and now New York Rangers coach Peter Laviolette.
I’ll read them to you. “There were many moments there (in the meeting). I say, ‘You brought a coach who almost didn’t fit our style, we had to rebuild.’ Such moments as it were. ‘You paid me this money for something, right?’ I say, ‘For what I did well.’ And now [he] arrived, they tell me: ‘Listen, you don’t need to do this – throw the puck into the zone, run, and [screen] the goalie.’
“This is where everything went wrong in general, because we should each have our own role, everyone should fulfill their role, and everyone will be in demand from this role. And when you carry a piano, and then they say to you: ‘No, no, let’s play the piano today.’ And the person has never played the piano, and they say to him: ‘Come on, play!'”
So essentially what Kuznetsov is saying, is from his point of view, Peter Laviolette was not a fit either for the team or for him personally. As the old saying goes, fiddler’s fiddle and dancers dance or cows don’t make ham or insert your own cliche here. In Kuznetsov’s mind, he was expected to do something he doesn’t do. He does say that he is optimistic that Spencer Carbery, the new head coach, can get this all on track. But your thoughts on — in the spirit of — we just talked about Steven Stamkos and Paul Bissonnette with Mike Babock — in the spirt of players speaking their mind.
Elliotte Friedman: Well, also, first of all, we should credit RMNB which has done a lot of the Google Translate with this. But it’s more than that, Jeff. There are several different comments there. Not only that, he rips the Players’ Association for not standing up for him when the NHL called him in over the videos of drug usage. He says that Bill Daly wanted a 20-game suspension and the Players’ Association didn’t offer a defense for him when they promised him to. He also laughs at one of his teammates, Alexander Alexeyev, for signing a multi-year extension with the Capitals when he said, ‘they are going to bring in other defenseman and you’re going to get buried.’ And now there are a couple of other defensemen there so Alexeyev is going to have to battle for a top-six spot. They brought in Sandin obviously on the left side and they brought in Joel Edmundson on the left side. There were a whole bunch of different things here. It wasn’t just the comments about Laviolette.
First of all, I’ll say this, I do not like ripping guys for being honest in interviews. We complain that hockey players are boring. If we’re going to complain they are boring, we cannot rip them when they decide ‘Okay, I’m dropping the veneer and I’m telling you all. I’m drinking the truth serum and it’s all coming out.’ That obviously is what’s happened here. Sometimes with this stuff, the players should know better now, is you go back to your home country wherever it is, and you think nobody in North America is going to hear this. And that doesn’t work that way anymore. There’s this thing called the internet and there’s cable lines at the bottom of the oceans. These things go places.
I’ll say this, I don’t think Washington is very happy at all. I think that they don’t like the comments about Alexeyev. They don’t think the comments about Laviolette needed to be made. The one thing I’ll say here is if you are going to talk like this you have to have a big year. Kuznetsov has to deliver right now. He has to go out and he has to have a massive season. In 2018, when they won the Stanley Cup, Ovechkin deserved the Conn Smythe, but if you would have told me Kuznetsov would have gotten it, I would have had no problem with that. He was an elite player. You could argue the second best player on the team that year when they won the Stanley Cup in the playoffs. He has to be that player now.
If you’re going to talk like this, you have to deliver. I think the other thing the Capitals feel here is that they don’t like the fact he did this, because he creates a firestorm or a controversy when they have tried to be supportive of him. I think that that’s one of the things that’s going to bother them about it, too. But at the end of the day, I just think that Kuznetsov, he has to deliver now. If you’re going to do this, you have to come out and you have to have a massive, massive season.
The other thing too, I was talking to a couple other teams. Like Kuznetsov is very nebulous about what exactly happened with this trade request. He admits there were conversations about it. But there’s no clarity on where it was and where it stands. The thing here is if he wants to be traded, this doesn’t make it easier to trade him.
Jeff Marek: Don’t you think that trade ship has already sailed though, Elliotte?
Elliotte Friedman: Yeah, probably.
Jeff Marek: It’s been a couple of years of trying to move him.
Elliotte Friedman: But still. You never know what happens. I think this makes it harder. The other point that someone made to me was, that it’s a really interesting debate about style of play, right? And that is that the style Laviolette wanted Washington to play, one coach said to me, ’There are good teams who play that.’
Jeff Marek: It is a simpler style. And a lot of it is predicated on defense. I remember when he took over Nashville, one of the first things that I heard, this is really upsetting Pekka Rinne. And I said, ‘why?’ This person told me ‘Well Laviolette, we don’t want shots to go on net. We want shot depression, keep pucks away from the net.’ And Pekka Rinne, liked to feel the puck, wanted a lot of shots early to get into the game. But with Laviolette’s defensive structure, he wasn’t getting that. He didn’t feel like he was getting into the game the same way he was with Barry Trotz.
Elliotte Friedman: That’s very interesting. I think more with Kuznetsov though, he’s talking about he wants to carry the puck more. And the best coaches, what they do, they say ‘look, if you see a play, and it’s a legit play, go for it. But if you don’t have a play, don’t get us into trouble at the other blue line, because if you do, that’s where the puck comes back the other way and it’s bad for you.’ Now Kuznetsov is a high-skill guy. When he’s playing his best, he can make plays that other guys can’t. But when he’s not at his best, which unfortunately he hasn’t been a bit in the past couple of years, then it’s trouble. I think some coaches will say to that is, ‘Is he unwilling to play a style that can win in this league?’ That is a gamble that some teams won’t want to take. I just wonder if it’s made it even harder for himself to get traded.
I’ll say this, I’ve loved dealing with him over the years. He is one of the most honest, blunt guys. I remember at the World Cup of Hockey, before he signed his big extension, he was talking about a situation in the NHL where a contract talk was going badly between a player and a team. And he said ‘if that happens with me, I’ll go right back home and play there.’ And please understand that was 2016. This is not now. ‘I go right back and play there.’ The message got received loud and clear. He received a big deal. He was really honest and blunt about it. It’s just that the parameters around him have changed. He hasn’t been as good as he can be. There’s been a lot of controversy around him. I think the Capitals are really disappointed because they feel they’ve tried to always support him. The trade conversations didn’t become public after years they happened. I don’t think they liked this at all, but I think now, like I said, I put myself in peoples’ shoes. If I delivered this interview, I would know it’s on me now to have a massive season. I think that’s what the end result is here. Kuznetsov has to have a big year.
The Capitals did not make any players who did not play in their preseason game on Sunday available to the press (Kuznetsov and the other groups skated at MedStar Capitals Iceplex). The team has an off day Monday before players take the ice again on Tuesday. It’s unclear if Kuznetsov will speak to the media then or not.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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