Puck Daddy - NHL

Atlanta Thrashers star Ilya Kovalchuk recently gave one of those great, wide-ranging interviews to Igor Arkhipov of Sovetsky Sport that covered everything from free agency to Barack Obama to Alexander Ovechkin's contract.

Oh, and of course: Alexander Semin's infamous comments on this blog about Sidney Crosby.

Puck Daddy's official comrade Dmitry Chesnokov, the man who brought you the Semin interview, translated Arkhipov's original Russian-language story for us. (The .pdf of the original can be found here.)  What did Kovalchuk think of Semin's evaluation of Crosby?

"This was not an ordinary interview. Usually in America people are used to being politically correct. But every person has the right to their personal opinion. This is a free country. We are not living under communism, right?" Kovalchuk told SovSport. "Semin says what he thinks. He must not be blamed. Quite the opposite, Semin's position is worthy of respect."

We have much, much more from Kovalchuk, including the Cherepanov tragedy and the KHL, the captaincy and whether or not he believes the Thrashers are "doomed."

Just so we're clear: Dmitry Chesnokov has translated this interview from Igor Arkhipov of Sovetsky Sport, but did not conduct it.

Questions and comments from Sovetsky Sport are in bold; Kovalchuk's translated answers follow. We edited out a few clunkers and Russian-specific questions.

What if players in the NHL start speak critically about each other, what will happen in the NHL?

"Semin didn't just start talking about Crosby. He was asked a question by one of your reporters...  You know, players here are frequently asked about who is better Gretzky or Lemieux. It is virtually in every interview. One can make a big deal out of this too. Let's say you pick Lemieux. And what's next? Will you be blamed for not liking Gretzky?

"Crosby, Kane, Semin -- all those players mentioned in the interview -- are world class players. And each has their own opinion that should be considered.  Without the hysteria. Sasha [Semin] is proving to everyone this season that he is an excellent forward. And [let them] take him into consideration. And [let them] fight against a cliché opinion that is usually born out of a crowd."

Then Kovalchuk talked about the rumors that the Thrashers are doomed this season and, perhaps, for years to come.

"I wouldn't say that Atlanta is in a hopeless situation. The season has just begun.  We are only a few points outside of the playoff zone. We have a new coach, a lot of new players. We need time to adjust to each other. And let's put all conclusions away until April."

Has the financial crisis affected you personally? Maybe you had stocks or your house lost a lot of its value?

"I am only 25. If everything goes alright, I will have time to make money.  I very much don't want to see this crisis. People are losing some serious money. But this is life...  I believe in Russia. We have a strong country. We will overcome this situation."

And what about the United States?

"I didn't invest in stocks. The market collapse didn't affect me. Property?  I own the house I live in, I like everything. I am not used to paying attention to world crises. If you start worrying about every cent you lose, you won't have enough nerves to handle it. We have to thing about something different. Our children are healthy, we wake up in the morning, the sun is shining...  This is what happiness is."

Have you followed the presidential election in the US?

"That also not my concern. I only knew that if Barack Obama became President, taxes would be raised. This is the only reason I wanted McCain to get elected.  But I don't really care who became the president. Dmitry Medvedev is President of Russia, Vladimir Putin is Russia's Prime Minister. What is happening in the United States doesn't really concern me."

Will the economy get better in the US with Obama in office?

"A lot of people were happy that he was elected. Obama wants to make life better in this country. It won't happen right away. But I think the financial crisis will subside."

Have you become a US citizen?

"Not yet. A few days ago I had an interview for a 'green card.' My wife Nicole and I will soon become permanent residents. And our daughter Carolina is already a dual citizen."

They say that Kovalchuk needs a first class center. Is this the way you feel?

"Team selection doesn't depend on me. We have enough good players in Atlanta. Give us time to develop. Having to change lines mates every two-three weeks is a different matter. We lack chemistry. Playing for the Thrashers I have never had a lines mate who played with me for an entire season."

Imagine that Crosby joins Atlanta. How would you react? Would you be happy or see him as a challenger?

"What kind of challengers can play on the same team? Players should know their role and what to do on the ice. And if you think about competing with your teammates, it won't lead to anything good. Crosby in Atlanta would be a big plus for me."

You never became the captain of your team.

"I have never in my entire career been a captain or an assistant captain. Not long ago I got an "A" [on my jersey]. We have five assistant captains, we always rotate. Later the club management will pick a captain.  We don't have one right now."

Soon negotiations on your new contract will start. If Atlanta offers you the amount lower that Malkin, Crosby and Ovechkin were offered, will you be upset?

"This is business. No one will give me big money right away. Every team owner wants to save [money]. So, I won't be surprised by anything.  I am not even thinking about it. My contract with Atlanta is valid for another two seasons."

According to the rules, you may receive an offer as early as the summer of 2009.

"I have this practice: first I finish working on the current contract, and then I will start thinking about the new one. Thus, I will wait until the summer of 2010."

What would be more important for you: to compete for the Stanley Cup with Detroit, or stay with Atlanta and be paid a couple of million more?

"Money is money, but everyone wants to play for a serious contender. I am still hoping for better times. The times when not only Atlanta players but the entire NHL will consider the Thrashers to be a serious contender for the Cup."

Last year in your interview to Sovetsky Sport you said that you wouldn't return to play in Russia even for $20 million per year. Have you changed your mind?

"Once again, all the talk about my future should be postponed until the summer of 2010."

Did the Cherepanov tragedy shock you?

"Lesha [Alexei] was the client of my agent Jay Grossman...  We have never met. But I knew that Cherepanov was praised.  I saw him play in the World Junior Championships...  I send my condolences to his family and loved ones.

"If the arena in Chekhov had an emergency paramedics' brigade, there would be a chance to save Alexei.  People who halfheartedly did their job must be punished. Unfortunately, things like this happen in Russia. We don't do anything until the rooster pecks...  It's such an awful shame that we lost such a talented and promising colleague Cherepanov was."

This rumor was dismissed, but for a while there was a talk that the Avangard forward [Cherepanov] used steroids. Can steroids help a hockey player?

"It is absurd to talk about steroids and Cherepanov.  What steroids when you're 19?  The main motivation for a young guy is to play for the first team.  I am one million percent sure that Akexei was clean.

"We are tested in the NHL during the season. The same thing is happening in Russia.  I don't see any reasons for a hockey player to use steroids. We play a very dynamic game. Everything depends not on the person's strength, but on his coordination and other factors. Big muscles gained by using steroids are useless for a hockey player."

Let's get back to talking about Atlanta. What is keeping you in the city apart from the contract? Would you live through a move with difficulties?

"I never thought about it. I like everything in Atlanta. The organization treats me very well. My daughter is in kindergarten. She has also started doing athletics. Nicole settled well: she became busy, got new friends. We expect an addition to our family..."

And who do you believe in for the NHL [scoring title]? Crosby, Semin or Malkin?

"Of course the Russians. I hope a Russian will win the Art Ross Trophy."

Can a player lose motivation when he signs a new contract? Some talk about Ovechkin and his scoring slump.

"Everyone can go through a slump. Ovechkin's priority is not to inflate his personal scoring numbers, but to do everything possible to have Washington in the play offs. Writers were quick to criticize Alex. But he will win the Stanley Cup and will be quite happy."

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