This will be the last page for me on the Kovalchuk contract and saga and I could not have picked a better closer than Dmitry Chesnokov. In a world of soft ball interviews and rhetorical questions, it is such a refreshing change to read an interviewer who not only asks difficult questions but the ones that are most relevant and to which fans want answers. Dmitry Chesnokov is the geniune article in a world of many pretenders. He and Dennis Bernstein are a credit to their profession and an inspiration to Surly and I. Here is the first part of the interview. For the complete Q & A, click on the link at the end.
Early Saturday morning, the NHL and NHLPA officially made Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) a member of the New Jersey Devils and a $100 million player, 49 days after the winger agreed to re-sign with the team as an unrestricted free agent.
In those 49 days, his original 17-year contact was rejected and then defeated again in an arbitration case; and then served as the catalyst for an amendment of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that both ended the possibility of similar contacts while approving his.
For much of the summer, Kovalchuk’s professional hockey future was uncertain and out of his hands. Was it the most unsettling summer of his life?
“Well, it was somewhat interesting to say the least,” Kovalchuk told me by phone from Russia on Sunday. “Of course there were some tense moments. But I am happy everything worked out OK.”
Here is Ilya Kovalchuk, speaking for the first time about his contract being approved; his previous contract being rejected; his feelings on the NHL challenging the contract; and whether he regrets not staying with the Atlanta Thrashers when they offered $101 million last season.
Q. How worried were you that the deal wouldn’t be worked out?
KOVALCHUK: Of course there were worries and fears. But we were hoping all along that the best outcome for us will finally be there. I am thrilled that this is the way it turned out to be.
Q. What was the most difficult moment for you throughout this whole process?
KOVALCHUK: I wouldn’t say there has even been a very difficult moment. I understood very well that this was a serious contract we were talking about. I knew that it would take some time to have it worked out. Of course I wish that the whole situation was settled a little bit earlier, but it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do about it now.
Q. Did the uncertainty of your contract somehow reflect on your preseason training and preparations?
KOVALCHUK: Not at all, I wouldn’t say that. I am doing exactly the same things that I planned. Every year my routine is the same. It’s just this year I came to Russia a week late and started getting ready a little bit later as a result. But it’s nothing serious. I will just make up this week in September here. I don’t think the delay will in any way affect my conditions.
Q. How did you feel when your initial contract was rejected right after you held a press conference in Newark?
KOVALCHUK: What feelings could I have had? I was told that a rejection was a possibility. So, I was actually ready for it. Back then we didn’t know for sure that the contract would be approved. And then there was an arbitration hearing. But of course when I was told that the contract had been rejected, it didn’t feel good. But at the same time, New Jersey made another offer that ultimately satisfied everyone.
Q. Was the arbitration your first legal hearing in the United States?
KOVALCHUK: It was a first for me, yes. You can’t really call it a court hearing though. The hearing took place at a hotel in a separate room. A conference room was assigned for the hearing. There was a big round table in the middle. Our side was sitting on one side of the table, the NHL and their lawyers were on the other side.
Q. There was even a report that Toronto’s GM Brian Burke was at the hearing testifying against [you].
KOVALCHUK: He wasn’t testifying against me personally. He was testifying against contracts similar to mine. So yes, it’s true, it took place.
For the remainder of the Dmitry Chesnokov interview with Ilya Kovalchuk, click on the link.