Washington Capitals officials declined to comment Friday on reports out of Russia that Evgeny Kuznetsov, their 2010 first-round pick, was leaving his Kontinental Hockey League team to join the NHL.
Sovetsky Sport and R-Sport in Russia reported that Kuznetsov will begin his journey to Washington on Saturday, but Kuznetsov’s North American agent, Jay Grossman, did not return calls or e-mails inquiring about his client’s status.
Kuznetsov’s contract with his hometown team, Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL, ran through April 30, but the reports indicated he and the team agreed to terminate the deal.
The NHL and KHL have an agreement to respect each other’s contracts, meaning the NHL requires evidence a player no longer has a contractual obligation to a club elsewhere before it would allow an NHL deal. Should that need be fulfilled, under the stipulations of the collective bargaining agreement Kuznetsov is eligible to sign a two-year entry-level deal with a maximum annual base salary of $900,000. The Capitals have room to accommodate such a figure under the salary cap.
Given those logistics — and the long wait to this point — Capitals officials were reluctant to discuss Kuznetsov’s arrival even speculatively.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” Coach Adam Oates said. “It’s been so far off the radar, I don’t really want to deal with it until it happens.”
Both Oates and General Manager George McPhee repeatedly have declined to comment on the on-going efforts to bring the 21-year-old Kuznetsov to North America.
Kuznetsov spent the past five seasons playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk, recording 78 goals and 167 points over 251 regular season and playoff games and was a two-time KHL all-star. Kuznetsov has been plagued by injuries, though, and underwent surgery on his left shoulder and left knee in the past year. This season, he posted eight goals and 21 points in 31 games.
If and when Kuznetsov is permitted to join the Capitals, the questions will move to how quickly he can adjust culturally and competitively.
“I would say he’s a top-six guy, but we’ve got to wait and see and let him get a couple practices,” Oates said. “I don’t really want to build it up, put too much pressure on him. Let the kid ease in; he’s a kid.”