The future for superstar Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) with the Atlanta Thrashers has been a hot topic all summer, even with GM Don Waddell claiming that talks on a new contract are progressing. There have been rumors of offers from the KHL, and plenty of speculation about his future in the NHL.
Here is Kovalchuk:
KOVALCHUK: I have already told Nikita about that: I used to be called young before. But then a different generation comes. Guys born in 1991 are drafted now. I am eight years older than they are... We are all growing up. Life does not stand still. Right now I am at the peak of [my game]. I will be "old" when I am 35. And still, look at Slava Kozlov(notes) or Alexei Zhitnik(notes). They are in a great athletic condition that they don't look their age.
Who would you call a legend?
Alexei Morozov, Sergei Fedorov(notes), same Kozlov and Zhitnik... I am naming those who I have played with. People who have seen everything and won a lot of trophies. They have the winning spirit. You can learn from them.
What did Alexei Morozov give you, for example?
He is an extremely intelligent person: both in life and on the ice. He is a role model for how you should talk to people. It is such luck that I have him as a friend.
Filatov also confessed that he was offered to come to the KHL. I think they gave you some attention.
No, no one called me. My contract with Atlanta is valid for another year.
It wouldn't bother anyone in Russia. And there is also no transfer agreement with the NHL.
There are a lot of rumors. But no one called me personally. Maybe they spoke with my Russian agent Yuri Nikolaev...
One of the rumors was that Ak Bars was ready to offer a contract for $11 million per year.
I think all managers of KHL clubs realize that I have a valid contract. And I cannot just dismiss it and run away from Atlanta. These are not the rules by which I play.
But does anyone really blame Alexander Radulov(notes) who left the Nashville Predators for Salavat Yulaef? Yes, he breached his contract. But he got a lot better during that year, he scored the golden goal at the World Championship.
Alexander was in a different situation. If you play only five minutes per game for your club, and at the same time you know that you are better than some teammates... I may have done the same if I were in his place. This is a "playing" and not a financial reason.
When you consider all pros and cons a year from now before you sign a new contract, what aces will the KHL have? What is keeping you in America?
I am not playing only for money. Prestige and the name are important for me. I want to be a winner. My goal is to win the Stanley Cup. It is one of the biggest trophies in the world of sports.
You can agree. No one wants to be a loser. Especially after we became World Champions two years in a row. I had a taste of victory with the national team. I want to get the same feeling in the NHL where I have been playing since 2001.
Is my understanding correct that the upcoming season will be a test for Atlanta - if the team does not make the playoffs you will leave?
This test is both for me and the club. For all of us. Atlanta did a lot in the offseason. New guys came. Making playoffs is now the minimum [goal] for us.
Is there something that scares you in the KHL? For example, you may end up in Lada or Vityaz and your team will be on the brink of being excluded from the league.
Business in Russia is done different from the NHL. For us the most important things are personal relationships, agreements, handshakes, and not legally sound documents. It is possible to contest any contract. You can find a term and void [the contract] unilaterally.
Right away I remember goalie John Grahame(notes), who was thrown out of Avangard after a claim of "alcoholism." But Jaromir Jagr(notes), as they say, requested a big prepayment [of his contract] before he came to Omsk.
It is also an option. It depends on what you agree on with the team.
What is your take on the big case of Kirill Kabanov? It resembles your story a little bit: he played for Spartak, was shooting for the No. 1 overall in the draft... But times have changed. Now it is not that easy for a guy to leave for the NHL. He is facing disqualification.
First, Kabanov needs to start playing and show himself. Until now Kirill has not really played at the [professional] level. I want to wish him luck, and not to get into scandals too much. [I wish him] not to fill his own head with garbage, but to train, become better and get to the new level. Juniors is one thing, but a team of men is something different. I left Russia after the draft.
But at the same time I had played for Spartak [first team] for two years [before I left]. It was an excellent school. But it is almost impossible to make the NHL right out of the juniors. First of all, you need to be prepared physically. Men have different pressure, different training.
How much did Spartak get for you?
Something like a quarter of a million...