After a workout with teammates at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday morning, Capitals captain and star left wing Alex Ovechkin spoke candidly about NHL labor unrest, the possibility of a lockout and what this dispute means for players.
Ovechkin acknowledged that he’s considering playing in Russia in the event of an NHL work stoppage. While that wouldn’t be surprising for any European-born player, Ovechkin went on to say that if the league insists upon the players taking significant salary cuts, players may reconsider whether they would return to the NHL at all.
“I think it’s not fair for us,” Ovechkin said when asked how he felt about proposed cuts to contracts that were agreed to under the previous collective bargaining agreement. “Why they sign us to long-term deals and that kind of money, too, after that, when the CBA is done they want to cut our salary? Why they want to cut 24 [percent]? Why don’t they want to cut 100 percent our salary?”
When Ovechkin posed that question, a reporter responded that the reason is the league needs players, prompting the 26-year-old to continue.
“Yeah,” Ovechkin said. “If they need us, how I say, if they going to cut a percentage of the contract and years I don’t think lots of guys who signed American deals are going to come back and play here. It’s not reasonable to be here. You have to think of the future, you have to think of your family.”
Ovechkin said that if a lockout occurs, the players are ready. “We’re not going to give up,” he said.
The full transcript of Ovechkin’s comments to four local reporters follows.
Q: What is your mind-set, given the labor uncertainty?
Ovechkin: Of course nobody wants to be in the position to be in the lockout, but it is what it is. We’re not going to give up.
It sounds like the players want the teams that are struggling to be stable. Is that fair?
Of course it’s fair. I think we want to help teams who financially is not that good and the league knows it. But they tell what they want, to think if they’re going to cut our salary and our contracts’ years, it’s going to help that. Why they still sign the guys for 10 years and five years? It looks strange and look stupid and they right now say, like, ‘We want to cut salary and want to cut everything.’ I think lots of guys, they just aren’t coming back if this happens.
How much faith do you have in Donald Fehr’s leadership?
I’m very comfortable. I think everybody trusts him. We know exactly what we going to do. We feel exactly what’s going to happen. If it’s going to be lockout, there’s going to be lockout we ready for it. If we was not ready we’d probably sign that kind of paper [proposal] that they gave us, but we ready and we’re not going to give up.
Have you considered playing in Russia if there is a work stoppage?
Of course I’m thinking about it because my hometown has teams and my Russian federation have a league. Of course I’m probably going to be there. But I don’t want to be there, I want to be here. My contract is here, I hope NHL and NHLPA gonna sign a deal before the 15th.
What do you think about owners trying to reduce salaries for contracts they agreed to?
I think it’s not fair for us. They still make money, they still sell tickets, they have money. Why they sign us to long-term deals and that kind of money to after that when the CBA is done they want to cut our salary? Why they want to cut 24 [percent]? Why don’t they want to cut 100 percent our salary?
Because they need the players?
Yeah. If they need us, how I say, if they going to cut a percentage of the contract and years, I don’t think lots of guys who signed American deals are going to come back and play here. It’s not reasonable to be here. You have to think of the future, you have to think of your family.
Do you think players would leave the NHL and play elsewhere for the rest of their careers?
Yeah. Why not?
Would you do that? If they cut back salaries, 15-20 percent?
I’m going to think about it, but I hope not. It’s something that the league wants to do it for all the players. [Sidney] Crosby just signed, [Ryan] Suter, [Shea] Weber just signed huge deals and they want to cut 24 percent for nothing? I don’t think it’s fair enough.
Feelings on where things stand now?
I talk to Joe Reekie and he told me about all the situation. I don’t think we’re close enough to make a deal. It’s all about the owners and the Bettman.
People have talked about a 50-50 split. Do you think that would get it done?
I think we know exactly what we’re going to do right now. I’m not going to tell you guys right now what’s in our mind.
How do you think another work stoppage will impact fans?
Of course it’s going to be hard. Of course it’s going to be long time to wait, but it is what it is. Everybody wants to play hockey and make money; nobody wants to play for free.
You said the players are ready for a lockout. Has the NHLPA warned or prepared you?
Not yet, because again, we’re going to wait until Sept. 15, but it’s something that we’re going to do soon as possible, I think.