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Chatting with Ilya Kovalchuk about NHL lockout, players going to Russia and his contract’s impact on CBA

Dmitry Chesnokov
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New Jersey Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk holds out hope that there will not be a work stoppage that delays the 2012-13 NHL season — but time is running short.

"Right now the player union and club owners have absolutely different views of the future. If we are told the decision must be made tomorrow, then there will certainly be a lockout," Kovalchuk told Sovietsky Sport. "But the CBA expires only on Sept. 15. And I don't know what's going to happen in three weeks."

Kovalchuk added that he already has a team in mind where he will play if there's a lockout. Something tells me it will be Lokomotiv. Kovalchuk will fly to Moscow this Friday from his Miami home and will play in a charity game this coming Sunday in Kazan to benefit the families of the Lokomotiv tragedy.

SovSport's Pavel Lysenkov spoke with Kovalchuk about the NHL's offer to the player, the overall CBA negotiations and the impact of contracts such as his on the next CBA.

Q. NHL's offer is very aggressive. Ilya Bryzgalov called it "impudence" in a recent interview. What is your reaction?

KOVALCHUK: "I cannot say it's a shock. But it is difficult to agree with those who are fighting with the NHLPA. Eight years ago, owners of NHL teams got everything they wanted during the last lockout. They feel comfortable and think they will win again. But there's a big difference between 2004 and 2012. Right now a lot of guys have long-term contracts. These are leading players, faces of the League. Look at how dynamic the negotiations with the NHL are. Players are a lot more united than before. And it means that the position of the NHLPA is stronger, and the negotiations will be tougher for the owners."

You signed a contract with the New Jersey Devils until 2025. The League wants to make all contracts to be no longer than five years. Will it affect you?

"It is understood that the existing contracts cannot be trimmed. But the NHL says that players circumvent the cap, sign deceitful deals where they will make very little towards the end of the contract. The League wants to protect itself from it. On the other hand, the owner himself is offering such deals. A player doesn't put a gun to the owner's head. And you have to think when you're signing a big contract. Hockey players lost a lot already after the 2004 lockout. Something remained, but now they want to take away even that. I think the League won't be successful at that."

It is surprising that the NHL had record revenues last season — around $3 billion. And now the Commissioner Gary Bettman says that the League is in a big crisis, and strict measures are needed. How are these two things related?

"Owners are simply showing only whatever they made from hockey. But each of the owners has the arena where concerts are held. There's also parking, food is sold — and all of that revenue is concealed. Income is being lowered and owners complain that they cannot make any money. Although, these are their problems. A lot of teams attract fans, they are always sold out. There are 6-8 teams with bad attendance and subpar marketing. But the problem is not with players, but with the management."

Not long ago Alex Ovechkin flew to the NHLPA meeting in Toronto…

"The same was held in Moscow. Five or six Russian players got together. Head of the NHLPA Donald Fehr with his assistants flew in from America for that. They described the situation, provided details. Fehr is great when it comes to those things. He travels a lot, tried to keep all the guys informed.

"It's a big difference comparing to the last lockout when Bob Goodenow was the head of the NHLPA, there was a lack of information. Right now, a phone app was developed for all the players. You download this app from iTunes and you can see all the news, video, newspaper articles. No problems!"

If the NHL is to offer concessions, what will satisfy players?

"The last years show that the League is blossoming. A great contract was entered to with NBC. Hockey is being promoted. The value of the NHL rose. Everyone understands that owners are making serious money. It's not for nothing that some players signed $100 million contracts this summer. And not once, but five or six times. The League is on the right track. The problem, the way I see it, is in the fact that owners of rich teams don't want to share with the poor. But why should players be the ones to suffer?  As soon as the NHL sorts that out the season will start."

Will the lockout start on Sept. 15?

"It looks like there will be no more negotiations. Owners have already stated that they won't move away from their position. The lockout may be called even earlier than Sept. 15.

"But right now all the guys are already ready for the League to have a work stoppage. The NHLPA is arranging for insurance coverage for everyone, getting ready to make payments. Fehr told everyone in advance, and a lot of players will go to Europe. Maybe to Russia."

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