When Capitals general manager George McPhee signed Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year, $1.8 million contract on Saturday night, he knew the risks involved.
He knew that by adding Kuznetsov for the final 17 games of this season, he was burning the first of his two-year contract.
He also knew he was running the risk of Kuznetsov, 21, possibly bolting back to the KHL after one full season with the Caps, in similar fashion to what Alexander Radulov did to the Nashville Predators in 2008.
“For him, it burns a year,” McPhee said. “He plays another year and we talk again. He’s turned down a lot of money to come here. If he’s the player we think he is, he gets another crack at it in a year and half.”
From a financial standpoint, Kuznetsov is walking away from about $5 million annually to stay in Russia. His contract with the Capitals carries a base salary of $900,000 with a signing bonus worth an additional $180,000 and performance bonuses totaling $850,000 this season and next.
If Evgeny lives up to expectatons he’ll cash in on his next NHL contract. If not, he may return to the KHL the way Radulov did.
“Going forward we expect him to be here a long time,” McPhee said, “and the reward will henceforth offset the risk.”
The question everyone wants to know – and it may not be answered until next season – is just how good Kuznetsov can be in the NHL. What’s his ultimate potential?
“I don’t know,” McPhee said. “I thought [Alex] Ovechkin was going to be a really good player and he’s turned out to be better than expected.
“His hockey sense is really outstanding. He’s a creative player," McPhee said of Kuznetsov. "He can score goals or distribute the puck and make things happen.”
As promised, Kuznetsov was brought along slowly in his NHL debut on Monday, getting off two shots while seeing 10:22 of ice time on a fourth line with Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson. On Tuesday he was elevated to a line with Nicklas Backstrom and Joel Ward and logged 14:52 of ice time, recording three shots and getting robbed of his first NHL goal on a nice pad save by Marc-Andre Fleury.
McPhee said time will tell whether Kuznetsov’s four seasons in the KHL was beneficial or detrimental to his development as a hockey player.
“I don’t know if the time there has made him better or worse, to be honest with you,” McPhee said.
“Sometimes there are bad habits, a lot of circling and less stop and start and north and south. You can snap them out of it pretty quickly [at a young age]. If he spent his whole career [in the KHL] it would be a lot different.
“This is going to be a very difficult time to step into this league. It’s a darn good league and these are like playoff games right now.”