When news got out that Capitals prospect Evgeni Kuznetsov would stay in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), there was some skepticism, mostly due to the fact that he had made the announcement on the KHL-TV channel.
Writing on the Washington Post's Capitals Insider blog, Russian sports journalism Slava Malamud, who along with Dmitry Chesnokov has some of the best insight into Russian hockey, elaborated the reasons for why Kuznetsov might stay in Russia.
Kuznetsov will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and is expected to be fought over by the league’s richest clubs. While the Capitals can only give him the standard entry-level NHL contract, worth just less than $1 million, KHL’s "oligarchs" such as SKA St. Petersburg and Salavat Yulayev Ufa are in a position to offer Kuznetsov at least four or five times that salary. It is probable that his family situation played a part in his decision. (Kuznetsov was married last summer, which is much more common for 19-year-olds in Russia than in the United States.)
Another aspect that Malamud doesn't mention is the fact that the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after this season. With a lockout looming as a real threat, it's no surprise that Kuznetsov would take the more financially secure option. (It's worth noting that Alex Ovechkin would have stayed in Russia during the 2004-2005 season even if it hadn't been canceled by the last lockout.)
We should not count the Capitals out quite yet. However, Kuznetsov's quote, as relayed by Malamud, seems pretty definitive.
"To be honest, my decision has been reached," the 19-year-old phenom said. "It is my intention to continue my career in the KHL. At the same time there is no clarity as to which club it will be."
It's not that hard, even on a league-owned TV station, to say the Russian equivalent of "I haven't decided yet."
If Kuznetsov doesn't come to the U.S., the Capitals will likely have to go at least another season without a prospect whom many had figured would provide scoring depth as a second-line center behind Nicklas Backstrom and, possibly, be a replacement for Alexander Semin. Make no mistake, Kuznetsov's statement is a big deal.