Two weeks ago before he left for Moscow, Alex Ovechkin told a group of local reporters that he wouldn’t be surprised to see some NHL players not return to the league if a new collective bargaining agreement includes sweeping salary cuts.
He followed that theme in comments Wednesday to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which you can find translated here. He reiterated that possibility once more Wednesday afternoon in a conference call with the Washington Post and the Washington Times.
“Of course, I said it before, before I sign contract, that if the league decides to cut our salaries, cut our contracts for what they want I don’t know how many guys are coming back,” Ovechkin said. “We sign contract before. Why they have to cut our salary and our contracts right now? They sign us. [Now they] want to cut it. I think it’s a stupid idea and stupid decision by NHL, [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman and the guys who work there.”
As I mentioned earlier today, take all of this with a grain of salt as there are repercussions for players and leagues who would violate NHL contracts. It’s uncertain whether this is a threat Ovechkin would follow through on, or if this is an effort to help sway CBA negotiations.
Ovechkin did make it clear, though, that he didn’t believe the number of players signing in Europe so quickly spoke negatively of the NHLPA’s solidarity during the talks. The Capitals’ star winger and all the other players who have found new teams simply want to find somewhere to ply their trade.
“It’s no secret our job is in NHL and right now we don’t have a job. So we just decide to come play in KHL [in] Russia,” Ovechkin said. “It was hard decision for me, first of all, to decide to come play in Russia because [of] insurance. I had to sign one-year deal, and it’s a lots of risk but again, for me, everybody wants to play hockey.
“It’s not us who stop the NHL, it’s the league stop the NHL, the Bettman and the owners stop NHL,” Ovechkin continued. “They don’t play hockey, they don’t block the shots, they don’t fight, they don’t get hit. They just sit in a box and enjoy the hockey.”
On a day that saw Ovechkin sign a deal with Dynamo Moscow for what is believed to be around $6 million, though, the contrast between superstar players finding work elsewhere and the blue-collar types who populate most third and fourth lines in the NHL is clear. It’s not simple for all NHL players to get a contract to play in Europe. Ovechkin understands that.
“I know lots of American and Canadian guys can’t just come to Europe and play there, for them it’s something new,” Ovechkin said. “Our job to play hockey. Of course it’s hard for somebody who can’t play [overseas]. But I don’t think somebody’s gonna be [ticked] or not because they have small kids and I think they’re just gonna spend time with the family, play golf and do something.”
More to come in my story for Thursday’s dead-tree edition.