In these dog days of hockey-less summer, we are grateful for OFB friend Dmitry Chesnokov providing another translation–this time an interview with new Capital Viktor Kozlov conducted by Pavel Lysenkov of Sovetsky Sport.
ABOUT PASHA [PAVEL] AND SASHA [ALEX]
Viktor, is your training camp in St Petersburg almost over?
We have one more week of good training! We are already skating with SKA [Russian Superleague club from St. Petersburg]. Barry Smith [former Coyotes assistant coach] is working with SKA now–all of his workouts are very fast-paced, just like the NHL. This is a perfect scenario for all players getting ready for the upcoming season.
Do you skate with Ovechkin?
No. We skate in two groups. My group includes Malkin, Nikolishin and Gonchar.
But do you and Alex at least discuss how you are going to play this season?
I’ve joined the Capitals but I cannot be sure that I will play on the same line with Ovechkin. It is up to the coach.
A lot of Caps’ fans see you on the first line with Nylander and Ovechkin.
I would be delighted to play on the same line with such great forwards.
But with it also comes great responsibility. A lot of people expect Ovechkin to score at least 60 goals.
And what does that mean for me? Pass the puck to him at the right time and then get out of the way. Then stand on the sideline and watch him score a goal. That will also help your stats [laughing].
You already had something similar in your career in Florida when you were on the first line with Pavel Bure.
Yeah, Alex and Pavel are supercharged and explosive players. It was so great to play alongside Bure. All defensemen marked him, and as the center I had a lot of room going forward. I think it will be the same in Washington. What is the difference between the two? Ovechkin plays more physically. Although I have never really played with him on the same team; I don’t take the Turin Olympics into account because we only played a few games together. But Bure‚Ä¶ I have never seen a player so focused on scoring. When Pavel was one-on-one with a goaltender, everyone was sure that the puck would hit the back of the net.
Some suggest that if Nicklas Backstrom turns out not to be ready to center the second line, you might be moved there to pair with Alexander Semin. Would it be easy to switch from right wing to center?
I had the same experience when I was with the Islanders last year. I will play wherever the team needs me the most. I can even play in goal, if Coach Hanlon decides to risk that [smiling].
When are you coming to Washington?
I will be there in the very beginning of September, a couple of weeks before the start of the training camp.
I WAS INVITED TO PLAY IN THE SUPERLEAGUE
Is it true that in the last few years you received a number of offers from the teams in Russia?
I have been receiving offers from a few clubs in Russia the past three years. I don’t think I would lose anything in terms of money. But the talks never reached the money stage because I want to play in the NHL.
I like it there. I will keep playing in North America as long as I can produce at such a level.
Almost all [Russian] NHLers say the same. How is the NHL better?
The quality of hockey is better. There is also financial stability. Here is an example for you: A few years ago Lada cut their payroll in the middle of the season. Twelve players were shown the door and told, “Find new teams.” The fact that contracts in the Superleague are not guaranteed scares people away. I have a family. So should I leave everything, and go to Russia to some club that could go broke? Where to go then? No NHL club will take you.
But Oleg Tverdovsky made it back to the NHL after playing two years with Avangard [Omsk].
He was 29 then. I am 32. I say again, no one will wait for me in North America with open arms. A lot of Russian players would play in Russia, in my opinion, if they knew that they wouldn’t have money problems. The rest–such as the size of the rink or accommodation–is not that big of a problem.
But maybe Alexei Yashin is right that he came back to Lokomotiv?
I am absolutely sure that Yashin’s career will take off in the Superleague. I remember the way he was treated by the Islanders. I was present at all those scuffles myself. I saw how they treated him when he was playing through the pain with injured knees.
Did Yashin become a hostage of his mega-contract?
If he was making not seven, but three million dollars a year, no one would expect miracles from him. Moreover, Alexei still provided miracles, when his health permitted him! And everyone was happy with him. But as soon as Yashin got injured, he came under pressure: “Go out there and play.” But how is it possible if you can’t stand on your own two feet?
Why did the coach bench him in the playoffs?
Because he expected a lot of him, but didn’t give him a lot of minutes. Nevertheless, all blame was placed on Yashin, who was considered the star of the Islanders… it is sad to see what is happening to the Islanders. I don’t understand why they strengthened the team last year if all quality players were given away this offseason. Nothing has been gained! Ryan Smyth came over via trade from Edmonton, but he was allowed to leave for Colorado this summer. They couldn’t keep Blake, bought out Yashin’s contract, Poti and Hill left… But we were in the playoffs; there was bright future ahead of us.
So what happened? The players are running away from the Islanders?
A lot of players wanted to stay. Blake, for example, didn’t even think about changing teams. But how can it be done when a good contract is not offered? I was promised a small raise over the last contract [Kozlov was making $865,000 while he scored 25+26=51 points in 81 games]. But it did not correspond to my stats at all. In the end I left for Washington, the club offered me great terms [2 years, $5M]. I like that the team is young and hungry for success. I don’t want to make predictions, but I think that Washington will have a great season.
RUSSIANS ARE OPPRESSED IN THE NHL?
Why is your contract only for 2 years?
I wasn’t offered a longer deal. Of course every player wants stability. But our dreams don’t always match our means.
Some players want to sign a one-year deal to make more money later. Others want a five-year deal to secure their future. What’s your strategy?
The first option may not work because of the salary cap. Let’s say you score a lot of points, show what you can do. But what will you do if teams have limited budgets? Look at [Danny] Markov – they guy played in the semifinal of the Stanley Cup and has great stats. But now he is out of work, because cannot make what he deserves. Now think what strategy you’ll pick…
The CBA is set to expire in four years. Is another lockout waiting to happen? Or the NHLPA is too weak after Bob Goodenow’s resignation?
The NHLPA doesn’t have a leader. I think there is some sort of a struggle for power. Insider struggle… another lockout? Two years ago we already lost our fight with the League. That it is. Period.
Can a player’s career be ruined in the NHL? You played great at the 2006 Olympics. But you were not even given a chance at New Jersey.
It depends on what team you play for. I wasn’t lucky. But, I think, it is good that I was dipped in cold water so that I wouldn’t see the world so rosy. If I had a long term deal with the Devils, I’d just sit on the bench – who would need me after that?
So it is all untrue when people say that Russian players have been getting oppressed in the NHL?
Why [do you say so]? There are clubs where our [Russian] guys are not [treated fairly]. Old-time coaches do that, the ones who think that Russians don’t give it all on the ice, who think that Russians avoid physical contact, don’t want to play in the playoffs… They think, why pay [Russians] when you have Canadians who skate and grind?
Superseries-2 is going to take place soon between Canadian and Russian junior teams. What is the main reason that Canadian juniors are considered strong favorites?
The reason is that junior hockey in Canada is booming. And us–look at the state of our schools… We have coaches, but parents have to buy the gear. A lot of them are factory workers and can’t afford to buy gear for their sons. Hockey is not cheap sport. When we [were young] the government was helping. When the system tumbled we stopped developing quality young players. Who do we have now? Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin. And the Canadians produce ten young stars every year. Hockey is the national sport in Canada.
We can only imagine what will happen in Quebec [and Halifax] when they host the 2008 World Championship…
It’s the same as when Brazil hosted the soccer World Chamionship. If another team [other than Canada] wins gold, it will be a heroic achievement. Canadians will fight for the win.
Original article (in Russian) here.