Sergei Fedorov is a future Hall of Famer, who found his second youth when he was traded to the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline in 2008. He is still a fan favorite. He admittedly loves Washington.
The Capitals are the team he has been following since he left the NHL. When I spoke with Sergei in January, he told me he would come to Washington to cheer on his old team in the playoffs.
That didn't happen. Sergei got food poisoning in Russia, missed the last two KHL playoff games for his club and lost close to 17 pounds because of the ailment. He is all better now. he joined Team Russia in Finland for the last leg of the Euro Hockey Tour and will play for the Russians in the World Championships.
I asked Sovetsky Sport's Pavel Lysenkov to ask Fedorov a few questions about the Capitals' performance and to provide me with his assessment of what happened to the President's Trophy winning Washington.
"I didn't get a chance to see the game. I only saw the score this morning," said Fedorov. "Of course I was not indifferent. Of course I was rooting for my old club. I thought the series was there to win because of the 3-1 score. And what happened after that, of course, I am a little shocked right now. The signs were there to calmly go through this round."
Here's what Sergei had to say this morning:
Q. I think the coach said that he would have bet his house when the score was 3-1 that the Capitals would go through.
FEDOROV: And he wasn't alone who felt that way. I think everyone thought this way, including all of the players. But this is the thing about playoffs: you are not eliminated, until you lost 4 games. Or until you lose in Game 7. The Capitals had a great advantage. But this is hockey. Montreal showed character and the will to win.
A lot of Caps players made mistakes. Some blame Mike Green for his play in Game 7. Anton Volchenkov said that Mike Green is like the fourth forward. What could you say about Green's play?
I like everything about Mike's game. The fact that he is so active in attack is a lot of help to all forwards. The fact that the team was the first in the league in goals is also because of Mike. In playoffs, if a defenseman has a partner, he has to help out a little bit, especially if the score or the game is in the final minutes. That's why I think that if the score in the series is 3-1 and the team cannot win 3 games, it doesn't affect the way Game 7 turns out. I think Mike tried to do his very best. I am sure he gave his best efforts. But mistakes are usually the result of that.
It's all understood about Green...
No, it's not. I want to add a couple of things. I know that right now people will try to find someone to blame. I believe that the real problems were games 5 and 6. And Game 7 is a lottery. By Game 7 a team usually reaches the full potential for a momentum change. And it should have been done in Game 5 or 6, I believe. You shouldn't take it to Game 7 when the score is 3:1. When you're up two games you have to play very conservatively, you have to play very tight in defense.
And it's difficult to blame Mike Green in anything like he didn't score here, or didn't create something there. He's been playing that way the entire season. And for defensemen there is a special bond with their partner: one guy drops back and plays more defensive game when you have to score, because offensive minded defensemen, like Mike Green, will always try to join the attack.
Does Washington lack a true stay at home defenseman? Is it very visible that there is more accent on the offense?
I wouldn't say so. Every team has about three defensemen playing [offensive] style of hockey, and three other defensemen playing a different style. Some play tougher, others are softer. The defense in Washington isn't that bad, you have the personnel to choose from. But that's not the point.
The point is that when you're leading 3-1 and you're going home, you have to close out the series as soon as possible: if not in Game 5, then definitely in Game 6. And it so happened that the team just couldn't do it. And about a free agent defenseman as an addition, you should talk to their general manager. I wouldn't want to discuss anything because I haven't played for the Capitals in a year. I did follow the team very closely, and I was very happy they were the first team in the league. And I believed that the first two rounds of the playoffs would not be a problem for them.
What are your thoughts on Alexander Semin's play? He led all players in the playoffs with shots on goal, but couldn't score. He hit a wall.
One round in the playoffs is seven games maximum. And the guy was playing and scoring in 80 games. You can certainly judge someone by looking at only 7 games, but these are not the qualities you can judge. The forward's job, if he so decides, is to shoot the puck on goal. The fact that the goalie played well, or that the puck never got to the intended target - these are different factors. If there are shots, goals will come. I think that at some point Alexander simply felt that he needed to shoot in virtually any situation. I think there was some feeling of nervousness in his actions. This was very visible from the sidelines.
I had a lot of experience when I was in the same situation, when I couldn't score in 10 or 12 games. My older teammates in Detroit had similar situations when they couldn't score in 13 or 14 games. And the solution is not to change anything, but to play a bit more focused when trying to finish, and be a little bit more calmly. You should in no case change anything! Because then you risk breaking up your game altogether. I know these are just words, and it is very difficult to explain these things on paper. But technically, these are the words my old Detroit colleagues and friends used to teach me.
What can you say about coaching? Bruce Boudreau looks pretty focused. But at the same time, when the team is leading 3-1 in the series and then loses, some of the blame is on the coach. Was he maybe a bit too stubborn to change things earlier?
This is a very direct and tough question. I respect Bruce a lot. He let me do a lot of things, he made me one of his top 6 forwards who had to play and influence the result. I thank him a lot for that. It's difficult for me to analyze his actions. This is because I did not watch all the games. I can only say that Bruce is a terrific person, a great human being. And as a coach he takes great care of all the guys. And at times it seemed to me that he was a bit soft with the guys. Maybe in some situations he should have been tougher [on them]. I know he has both of those qualities. What was the balance of those two qualities is difficult to say.
The one thing I agree with him is that I would also bet my house knowing that leading 3-1 is a serious score and going home for Game 5... It's depressing when you lose that game, then go to Montreal and lose the next game, then of course the momentum is lost.
There is a lot of belief that the Capitals never found a replacement for Sergei Fedorov as a second line center. Neither Brendan Morrison nor Eric Belanger could really do what was expected. Was there a chance for you to stay another year in Washington?
To answer the first part of the question I am going to approach it philosophically. It wasn't about Fedorov. I think the guys that were brought in as replacements for those positions played really well. The results during the season speak for themselves, regardless of what happened.
The thing is that the team is gaining experience right now. I know that good teams with good players 10 or 15 years ago were not winning everything right away. Right now the most important thing is to leave the team and players alone, and to calmly get ready for the next season. There are no revolutions needed. They just have to take into account not the experience of the regular season, but the experience of the last two years in the playoffs. That's all. It's not about one or two players who were traded or left.
Yes, I wanted to stay in Washington, to answer the second part of your question. I asked the management to keep me. I did not ask for a raise in my contract. I simply wanted to stay with the same contract and play one more year. But you have to understand that my wish is one thing, and the club interests that the general manager is responsible for, Washington decided to take a different road. I understand and respect this decision. We parted ways without ill feelings, there is no question about that. Speaking professionally, there was no option and it wasn't in their plans to keep me just like it was before. I have a great relationship with Bruce and George. They are both professionals, just like I am. We always considered each other's wishes, it just turned out that the team decided to go in a different direction. I spoke with George, he thanked me for everything. I thanked him for everything, especially for giving me the opportunity to work with young players and to be one of the top 6 forwards for Bruce.
I really loved the opportunity to play with the young guys like Ovechkin, Semin, Green, Bakstrom and all the other guys. They have a great team. All they need is just to take this experience and not to forget it next year, when they will be the best team again."
Will they win President's Trophy again? Maybe it's a "black mark" for a club to win that trophy?
I don't think so. Maybe that's the way the media and fans see it. But from a player's perspective, this is a big achievement, I think. But you should never stop at what you have achieved. And right now we're talking about experience. The experience that was gained, even if it is negative, is not a step backwards. I don't think it is. Experience cannot be bought, it's not something you get out of the blue. You can only gain it through these games. Yes, at the moment, we have a negative situation. The team lost in the first round again. I know that some conclusions will be made, and that next year the team will be stronger.
What would you tell all the young Capitals who are in a state of shock right now, like Semin, Varlamov, Ovechkin? How does one get out of this state? It was especially tough for them this season with the Olympic disappointment?
I think hockey is such a unique sport that it stimulates the real feelings and the right decisions. I think what's great for the guys is that they have an opportunity to come to the World Championships and finish the season on a high note. And, as we always say, we have another game, we have the next season, the next playoff, the next round. And that's what they should concentrate on. You have to look ahead. You can't look back.
Of course, you can spend a couple of days contemplating things, but then you have to clean it up and look ahead. They're young guys and they have to think about the future.
(Ed. Note: For those readers who like to nail us with the 'Caps Daddy' label, Merry Christmas. It's been Caps-heavy today and there still might be more, plus ‘pack up your gear' day on Friday. After that, we promise: No posts about whether Matt Bradley made par.)