Photo credit: bezformata.ru
At the end of March, Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog about — at the time — two Capitals prospects that could have a dynamic effect on the franchise in the coming years. Leonsis said of Filip Forsberg and Evgeny Kuznetsov: “We have two former first round picks playing overseas who will one day don Caps jerseys and really excite our fans. We are hopeful that next season, one of the players will make our team, but they have to earn that right. Maybe at some point next season, fans could see both players in Caps uniforms, time will tell.”
Since then, the Capitals have traded Forsberg to Nashville and he’s already made his NHL debut, playing on the Predators’ first line and powerplay unit. But Kuznetsov’s situation is a bit murkier. Ted, while not directly addressing who are what, seems to be suggesting in his final sentence that Kuzya could play for the team next season.
Not surprisingly, since Mr. Leonsis’s blog post was published, we have been inundated with questions regarding Kuznetsov’s future.
@russianmachine Can Kuzy report to the Caps after Olympics and KHL season next year? In time for Caps last run before the 2014 playoffs?
— Luke Adomanis (@LukeAdomanis) April 2, 2013
After doing some research, we can see why Ted is hesitant on guaranteeing anything.
When Are The Olympics? Could Kuznetsov Leave The Team After It Concludes?
The 2014 Winter Olympics will be held in Sochi, Russia, from February 7th to February 23rd. If the NHL allows its players to participate in the Winter Games like it did in 2009-10 (which is no sure thing), the league will break for two weeks during the regular season. Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where Kuzya plays currently, did the same thing in its inaugural season and will do so again next year too.
Kuznetsov’s contract with Traktor Chelyabinsk is ironclad and respected by the NHL. Basically, Kuznetsov can’t just leave Russia for the Capitals after the Olympics end. The only way the talented prospect could leave Traktor early is if he buys out the deal or if Traktor’s GM and he mutually agree to terminate it. That would be highly unlikely mid-season and during Traktor’s playoff push.
However, once Traktor’s season concludes, anything is possible. There is precedent for KHL players coming over at this point, most recently with Nashville’s Alex Radulov and the Capitals’ Dmitry Orlov.
Kuznetsov’s Contract Ends on April 30th, 2014.
Per the KHL’s Legal Regulations, chapter 4, article 16, paragraph 6: “[Player] contracts must end on April 30th of the year concluding the contract’s duration.” That means that once a team’s season concludes, such as Metallurg Novokuznetsk’s did in late February 2011, a player is still under team control until the first day of May. That season, since Metallurg failed to make the playoffs, Orlov asked if he could get out of his deal so he could start his professional career in North America early. The club, wanting to keep their hometown player happy, agreed and terminated his contract. A few days later, Orlov signed a
entry-level deal professional tryout contract with Washington and reported to Hershey.
This may be the most likely situation for Kuznetsov, though McPhee would sign Kuzya to an entry-level contract if he wants him in Washington immediately.
So When Will Kuznetsov’s Season End Next Year?
Without seeing how both leagues will adjust for the Olympics next year, it’s hard to know 100%. But let’s concentrate on both leagues’ 2009-10 season. Since the KHL starts its regular season in early September — a full month before the NHL, the KHL’s Gagarin Cup playoffs start early too: March 7th. That’s five full weeks before the NHL’s that year (April 11, 2010).
The past two seasons Traktor Chelyabinsk has been one of the best teams in the KHL. Last season, they went to the Eastern Conference Finals. This season they lost in the Gagarin Cup Finals, being edged out in six games by Alex Ovechkin’s lockout team, Dynamo Moscow.
Let’s say Traktor Chelyabinsk goes to the Finals next year. Kuznetsov could potentially be available to the Capitals during the first round of the playoffs. If Traktor has a bad season and misses the playoffs altogether, he could be available in early March. Again, as long as he and Traktor can agree to terminate the contract early and Kuzya has a desire to continue playing, this is a possibility.
Wait? Aren’t There Roster Limits Or Something After The Trade Deadline? He Can’t Just Join The Team In The Playoffs Right?
The new NHL CBA allows the Caps to make unlimited roster moves within their organization before and after the playoffs begin. The only caveat is that they can’t have more than four recalls on the active roster at the same time, which would not apply to Kuznetsov. The Capitals also cannot have more than 50 players under contract at one time. If George McPhee is planning for Kuznetsov to come over next season, he will have the flexibility to sign him.
A good example of a NHL team signing a player and him coming over during the playoffs would be Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers. Last season, the former collegian player signed with the club the day of his team’s first playoff game. He made his NHL debut in Game Three of the Rangers first round series.
Does Kuznetsov Want To Play in the NHL?
After meeting him at Development Camp and following him over the last few years with my team, I think he absolutely does. I believe that the Olympics and money played a huge factor in staying in Russia until 2014. And really, he wouldn’t have a Capitals air freshener in his car and constantly wear Capitals hats if he wasn’t excited about playing in the NHL someday. But this is the x factor. Does Kuznetsov want to be here? Does Kuznetsov want to continue playing in 2013-14 after Traktor’s season ends?
Kuznetsov could potentially be available to the Capitals next season at the earliest, around March 7th, and at the latest, May 1st.
Additional reporting by Fedor Fedin.