On the same day he signed a contract to play for a Russian team in the Kontinental Hockey League, Alex Ovechkin reiterated that if a new NHL collective bargaining agreement includes dramatic rollbacks in existing salaries, some players — including himself — might not return.
“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,” the Washington Capitals’ star left wing said Wednesday during a conference call with the Washington Post and the Washington Times. “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, [Commissioner Gary] Bettman and the guys who work there.”
Ovechkin, 27, signed a one-year deal with the KHL’s Dynamo Moscow that is believed to be worth roughly $6 million, making him one of more than 45 NHL players who have signed contracts in Europe since Sunday, when the league entered its third lockout in 18 years. He has also been one of the most outspoken players when it comes to voicing concern about the NHL’s labor negotiations.
Earlier on Wednesday, Ovechkin told Russian news agency RIA Novosti that he would consider staying in Russia full time if a new collective bargaining agreement reduced players’ salaries significantly.
“If our contracts get slashed, I will have to think whether to return there or not. I won’t rule out staying in the KHL, even past this season,” Ovechkin said, as translated by Slava Malamud of Sport-Express.
Nine years and $88 million remain on Ovechkin’s contract with the Capitals, and while he can play elsewhere during the lockout, he is obligated to return once the NHL season resumes. The same is true for all NHLPA constituents, and they’re aware there would be repercussions if they do not do so.
If Ovechkin were to stay in Russia once the NHL season starts up again, he would be in violation of his deal with the Capitals, and the breach of contract would be in conflict with the league’s agreement with the KHL to honor each other’s player contracts. It would also bring sanctions from the International Ice Hockey Federation and could potentially lead to the NHL keeping its players out of the Olympics, which in 2014 will be in Sochi, Russia.
It would be a dramatic course of action, certainly, and whether Ovechkin would truly contemplate walking out on his NHL contract or is simply making an effort to help sway labor negotiations in the players’ favor is uncertain. Ovechkin made it clear, though, that he and other players 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. 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.”
Ovechkin knows finding somewhere else to play isn’t as easy or even possible for many of his teammates and fellow NHL Players Association members. He dismissed any notion that the sudden influx of NHLers in Europe reflects negatively on the union.
“Our job to play hockey,” Ovechkin said. “Of course it’s hard for somebody who can’t play [overseas]. But I don’t think somebody’s gonna be [angry] or not because they have small kids and I think they’re just gonna spend time with the family, play golf and do something.”
At this stage it’s unclear how long the NHL lockout will last and how long Ovechkin will be suiting up for Dynamo Moscow. He will play his first game in the KHL on Thursday against Dynamo Minsk. The NHL and NHLPA have held no formal bargaining sessions since Sept. 12, and on Wednesday, the league announced the cancellation of all preseason games through Sept. 30.
Ovechkin says the cancellation of games will become a frequent occurrence, as he doesn’t believe this labor dispute will be resolved any time soon.
“If it’s going to be the same situation, I think it’s gonna be all year, because we not going to give up,” Ovechkin said. “We stick together because we have a very good [leader in NHLPA Executive Director] Don Fehr, and guys knows and trust him right now because his job to help us to play hockey. And play hockey [with] what we deserve to play hockey.”