Getty ImagesIt is fair to say that a lot of Washington Capitals' fans were waiting for May 1 to find out if the highly touted prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington's 26th overall draft pick in the 2010 draft, will come over to the NHL.
Today is the day he became a restricted free agent in the KHL.
Kuznetsov first announced he was staying in Russia a few weeks ago. His agent later took that back, and Kuznetsov himself said his answer was so that "people would just get off [my] back." The amount of flip-flopping was enough to make any politician proud. [thanks, JP!].
Kuznetsov joined Team Russia preparing for the World Championships, skating on the same line as Evgeny Malkin. But it wasn't his chemistry with the Penguins star that the media wanted to know about.
Will he stay or will he go? Kuznetsov spoke with SovSport's Pavel Lysenkov:
"The contract hasn't been signed yet. But the decision to stay for two more years I have already made. To stay in Russia, in Chelyabinsk. The new contract hasn't been signed yet."
How can you explain this decision? Everyone thought you would join the Capitals next year.
"It's tough to say. But firstly I really want to make the Olympics. I think we have a very strong team and I will continue to gain more experience and progress with the team. I am not ready to go to the NHL right now."
So, this is not a question of money?
"We have agreed to all terms [with Traktor], and it's just a matter of signing a new contract. Signing it is just a formality at this point."
When you say you're not ready for the NHL, maybe you are talking about the new system the Capitals have implemented?
"To be honest with you I don't know anything about that system. It was a tough decision to make. I spoke with my parents, my wife. And I decided to stay."
Did the Capitals' GM talk to you?
"Well, there were some talks but I will keep it personal [what was said]. Again, the decision has been made. I made the decision myself. I want to play in Russia. And everyone else who didn't love me when the season ended, maybe they'll be a little quieter now."
You were going back and forth about the decision. Were you "trolling?" [joking].
"Of course not. I honestly didn't know what to do at the time. I took a while to think. A part of me wanted to go to America. Another part wanted to stay. I wasn't ready to say I was staying for sure at the time. We were still negotiating at the time. I had two contract offers on my hands [the other one from the Capitals]. I think in the end I made the right decision and will try to make my fans happy."
How did the Capitals react to your decision?
"They don't know about it yet."
• • •
Well, they do now.
Two months ago we interviewed KHL President Alexander Medvedev who told us "players also have to have a good head on their shoulders to realize that leaving [to the NHL] before the Olympics is not to their advantage. It is obvious that after the Olympics their value and influence is going to be a lot higher regardless of who will actually win the Olympics."
True or not about the latter statement, it looks like the Olympics was the main reason behind Kuznetsov's decision to stay another two years.
Money is also a reason. Players like Kuznetsov and Tarasenko get a special "stipend" from the KHL. Well, Tarasenko is getting it now and Kuznetsov is set to be the recipient next season. It is my understanding that this special "stipend" to young players about equals to the entry level contract compensation in the NHL. Factor in the actual contract (believed to be over $2 million for Kuznetsov next year) and the 13% flat income tax rate, and money talks.
Moreover, the examples of the Habs' defenseman Alexei Emelin, who came to the NHL as a mature player, and Alexander Radulov, who was welcomed with open arms, Kuznetsov is betting that as long as he has the talent and can actually show that he can perform, the road to the NHL is never closed.