Puck Daddy - NHL

Anton Volchenkov(notes) of the Ottawa Senators is a defenseman, and the Norris Trophy is the award given to the best player at his position. If Volchenkov had to chose the winner among 2010 finalists Drew Doughty(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings, Mike Green(notes) of the Washington Capitals and Duncan Keith(notes) of the Chicago Blackhawks, who gets his vote?

"Doughty is a really good player. I think this year he played really well. He's a young guy, but he is such a talented defenseman. He's had a great year," Volchenkov told Puck Daddy in an exclusive interview this week.

"Green? He's like a fourth forward when he's out there for Washington. I don't see him playing that seriously defensively, but offensively he is of a lot of benefit."

That's expected from Volchenkov, whose reputation is that of a "defensive" defenseman. He averaged 2.69 blocked shots per game this season, finishing in the NHL's top 10 in that category once again, while scoring only 14 points in 64 games this season. But his defensive abilities have made him one of the most interesting names on the unrestricted free agent market, after having just a $2.5 million cap hit for the Senators last season.

We spoke with Volchenkov about his impending free agency, the chances he'll return to Ottawa, why the Senators lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, the Dany Heatley(notes) trade to the San Jose Sharks in hindsight, his offensive game and his Stanley Cup pick ... along with what he's driving and listening to these days.

Q. Now that the season is over for the Ottawa Senators, what is your assessment of it?

VOLCHENKOV: Of course we didn't do well in the playoffs. That's the main point. But at the same time we did make the playoffs to begin with, which means it was an OK season. This season was really tough because of the Olympics. It was especially hard because of the game against Canada. [Russia] really did not play well in that game. We simply burned out. But otherwise it was a good season.

The season for the Senators started with the news of Dany Heatley demanding a trade. How did it affect the team and the mood in the locker room ahead of the season?

Once again, wanting out of Ottawa was his opinion. Life doesn't stop when these things happen. We just had to carry on getting ready for the season ahead. At the same time the whole thing was blown out of proportion by the media. But we all have our own take on that situation. Some people like to leave with a scandal. That's the way it happened with Dany.

I personally don't have anything against Dany. It was bad that we lost a good scoring forward. But it was his decision to make. As for the team and how it affected the team, maybe someone had a bad feeling left somewhere deep inside. But we did get two forwards instead of one. Milan Michalek(notes) is a good player who can score. And Jonathan Cheechoo(notes) too, although he may not have had a good season comparing to what he used to do before. We, as a team, did well this season. And as for Dany, these types of situations happen.

You didn't have a bad season yourself. Some say that you're a rubber magnet and pucks just find you. Is there a spot on your body that is not sore?

Hockey is such a game that requires a defenseman to help out a goaltender. Maybe I do try to block shots too much, but this is my style of play. This is the way I like to play.

You blocked a lot of shots in your series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Senators took the Penguins to 6 games. What wasn't enough to overcome Pittsburgh?

We didn't prepare.

Not that we didn't prepare well, all the guys were motivated, but we were completely crashed in the first two home games, we lost pretty badly. At the same time, we went to Pittsburgh for Game 5, and we snatched a win there.

Maybe we relaxed a little bit; maybe we lacked chemistry a little bit, thus the result. We have played each other three years in a row. We did win the first time we met, but couldn't beat them since. That's the way it is.

It sounds a little strange when you say that you may not have prepared well, relaxed. You were playing the defending Stanley Cup champions.

No, no. Not that we weren't prepared. I just think we didn't approach the games with the right set of mind, especially the home games. As I mentioned, we lost both of our first home games. And also sometimes the luck was on their side. But there's no point throwing punches after the fight. We have to talk about the future. The season is over. We have to look ahead and get ready for the new season. We have to understand why we lost and draw the right conclusions.

Were you surprised that there were a lot of Penguins' fans at Ottawa's home games?

I think there are a lot of cities where fans of other teams live, those who love other teams. There are a lot of people who move to other cities but keep supporting their home team. And Canada, especially, is a hockey country. I think there are a lot of people in Canada who support other non-Canadian teams. And that's OK.

You said that the time is now to draw the right conclusions and get ready for the new season. Do you know where you will prepare for the new season? You are a free agent on July 1.

I said I was going to get ready for the new season, but I didn't say where.

Right now I need for my old injuries, knocks and bruises to heal, and then I will start getting ready for the new season. Only then we will see where and how.

What's it like psychologically for you to realize that you're a free agent?  You're 28, and right now you're in your prime, which means that maybe this is the last opportunity to get that big long term contract to provide for yourself and your family.

The nervousness is always there. Whichever way you want to put it, but I have spent 7 years in Ottawa. Of course it would be sad to move to another city. I am trying to look ahead at this point because life doesn't stop. But you're right, this is going to be one of the most important contracts of my hockey career. That's why we will have to see and decide what it's going to be.

You spent seven years in Ottawa. You can say that the Senators nurtured you as a player. How will you feel if you have to leave Ottawa?

I think I was nurtured as a player in Russia. And here I was given a chance to play. Of course I have to admit that it is going to be sad if I have to leave Ottawa. But this is hockey. It doesn't always happen the way you want it. I am not a fan of changing teams, but...  But if I am in such situation, we will have to decide. But it will all have to happen later.

Have you had discussions with the Senators about a new contract yet?  They do have a right to negotiate with you before July 1.

Well, they did make an offer. But we were still playing. Right now we're waiting for some meetings. But I don't know what and when something is going to happen. Right now there are still playoff games to be played by other teams. We'll see.

You scored four goals this season. Some may say that this is just too few for a top defenseman. What can you say about your offensive abilities?

All the top defensemen have a different responsibility, if I can put it this way. The main responsibility is to defend and protect your zone, and not to score. And if you look at me, I am not a player who usually plays on power plays, and that's where the points are usually collected. I usually kill a lot of penalties. I also usually play against the main forwards of opposing teams. That's why I have a different responsibility.

My job is to stop the most dangerous guys.

All Russian players, including defensemen, have a thing for playing offense, to go forward, to score. Do you have any of that?

Of course I do want to do all those things. But when you're playing against the likes of Ovechkin or Kovalchuk or Crosby that's not exactly what you think about. Scoring is not something you think about. The main thing is that they don't score against you. That's the situation when I am on the ice.

Of course I'd like to score and play on power play. But my duty is to play against the most dangerous guys. And you have to keep an eye on them at all times. Those guys have so much skill, that it's not always you get a chance to go forward against those guys.

As a defenseman in the Eastern Conference, is it tougher to play against the Western Conference opponents?

Hockey is a lot more physical in the Western Conference. And in the East it's a lot about skill and puck movement.

I am not saying that players from the East are a lot more skilled than guys from the West, but the main difference, in my opinion, is that hockey is a lot more physical in the West.

And if you were to leave Ottawa, would you prefer to stay in the East, or move to the West?

I would, to be honest, prefer to stay in the East. I wouldn't want to move too far. Once again, I don't know right now. We will have to assess the situation when it arises.

What is your prediction for the playoffs this year?

It's so difficult to pick any team. I think Washington's chances are good. I think Vancouver looked really strong the last couple of games with some of their guys started playing really well. I think every team has a good chance. I just can't say that one team is that much weaker than the other. All teams are of the same level and it depends on the way each team approaches any given game.

A few of the regular Puck Daddy questions before you go. What are you driving these days and what is your dream car?

I am driving an Audi. And the dream?  I don't even know. I would love to take a ride in a Bugatti, get some wind. I just don't think this dream is possible. Maybe in another life.

What's playing in your iPod?

Everything!  You can find anything but country music there.

And when you're not driving an Audi, dreaming of a Bugatti, how do you spend your free time?

Any chance of some free time I get, I just relax, spend time with my family, my son. There is just not that much time during the season. So, whenever I have a chance, I try to spend time with my family.

Is your son going to be a hockey player?

I don't know. He will be whoever he wants to be. It depends on him. I am not putting any pressure on him. It's his pick.

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