By Mike Wise
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Viktor and Natalia Fedorov unfortunately couldn't make the first two games of the Rangers series to support the Capitals and their favorite player. As their son explained, "they're stuck in Florida on vacation."
In their son's South Beach home -- "on my money," Sergei Fedorov said, smiling.
The distance didn't stop Viktor from critiquing the performance of his grown child, who turned 39 in December.
Viktor talks about "how I play," Sergei began. "Why I didn't pass, why I didn't shoot. It's not always negative, but overall. He's not necessarily giving me a hard time, but it's funny, you know. Like: 'Dad, come on, this is my 115th year or season. What are you talking about?' "
It's good Sergei's parents and more family members aren't expected to miss more than two games of Washington's run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Fedorov's 15th in 18 seasons. He knows he's much closer to the end than the beginning now, maybe months away.
"How many more years will you play?" he is asked.
"I think about 15" years, Sergei said, grinning as you laugh.
Seriously, is this it?
"I don't know," Fedorov said. "Maybe. Maybe not. Depends.
"Personally, I hope not. I hope we go all the way here and have a wonderful summer and maybe that will give me a chance to stay for another season or two."
Even then, it's unclear whether he will return. Alex Ovechkin had to persuade his pioneering countryman, one of the first Russian players to defect to the NHL, to put his body through hell one more time. After originally wanting a two-year deal in Washington, Fedorov finally agreed to a one-year contract.
He knows the creases in his forehead are deepening at the same time his speed is declining. Nothing can hide the obvious. Not the chic red ski cap he wore after practice yesterday -- not the Ferrari, not the Maybach, not the European designer jeans and certainly not his tentative Game 1 performance in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers.
In pro-athlete parlance, Sergei Fedorov is old. And so there is a genuine feeling around the organization it might be good to see the Russian legend now, in these final weeks of the 2009 season, because you never know when the great ones will go -- and Fedorov more than qualifies.
No one else in a Capitals jersey has a name engraved on the Stanley Cup, let alone three times. On his first Red Wings championship team in 1997, he scored 20 points in 20 playoff games. Last October, Fedorov eclipsed Alexander Mogilny's mark for most goals by a Russian-born NHL player (it's now at 483 and counting), and that milestone came 14 years after he became the first Russian-born player to win the Hart Trophy. (Ovechkin last season was the second.)
The Capitals became a godsend to him as much as Fedorov became for them when General Manager George McPhee traded for him last February. He was freed from four years of no-playoff purgatory after 13 straight postseasons in Detroit. Washington, in turn, got a glimpse of the sublime choreography of teamwork only Fedorov could create for his linemates.
He wasn't the youthful dynamo of the 1990s, but his artistry and instincts -- the way he could just leave the puck for a trailing teammate whom Fedorov just knew would be there to fire a shot on goal -- added so much to the skill level, point production and flat-out confidence of an unseasoned bunch of talented kids.
"You cannot teach that," Viktor Kozlov, his Russian teammate, said. "It comes only from a player who plays for all the years Sergei has played.
"He's playing smarter, wiser. Maybe he's not as fast as he used to be, but he got more experience right now, more intelligence."
Fighting ailments and age, Fedorov hasn't had as many brilliant moments this season. But the puckheads, along with the people who talk and write about this game for a living, know he is one blinding rush away from turning back the clock again, being the fabulous Fedorov they remember.
"I played only  games in the regular season so I'm fresh as I possibly can be -- in my mind," he said. "I don't know, it's for you guys to judge. But I try to be fresh on the ice."
He concedes the life of an NHL veteran is getting old. "I don't mind preseason, but I guess the travel, long schedules eventually get to you somehow," Fedorov said. "It's probably when you're younger you kind of digest that. It's a little bit easier. When you're older, you're a little bit, you know, battling."
Viktor and Natalia, he said, have been there through it all. They have seen the grind Sergei annually puts his body through. He said they have yet to weigh in on him coming back for another season. But, he added: "They would probably love it, because they like to come to the games, you know. They get their cognac, they sit there and cheer their son."
Natalia has cooked for Sergei for years and picked up his dry-cleaning when he needed, while Viktor is still the ever-involved father, imparting advice on his going-on-40 son as if he were playing juniors in Moscow.
Whether this is the Fedorov Farewell Tour or not, whether this is Sergei's "do svidaniya," doesn't change the support that enabled him to become part of hockey lore, one of several great Russians who had the courage to come and alter the game for the better.
"Oh my gosh, I can't thank them enough," Sergei Fedorov said near the end of his 18th NHL season yesterday. "That's why they're in Florida -- on my money."