Ovechkin returns, delivers mixed messages

Ovechkin returns, delivers mixed messages
January 8, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Would Alex Ovechkin rather be in Russia?

Alex Ovechkin was all smiles Tuesday during his first practice with the Capitals since the NHL lockout ended on Sunday.

The Caps’ 27-year-old captain shared a few laughs with reporters and even joked how it feels to be engaged to tennis star Maria Kirilenko.

But when asked about previous comments he made about staying in Russia if his NHL salary was significantly slashed under the league’s new CBA, Ovechkin turned serious.

“I want to find out what the deal is,” he said. “It’s done, but what’s going to be the situation with my contract and the future of the players?”

Earlier on Tuesday reports swirled that Devils star Ilya Kovalchuk would remain in Russia until he had a better understanding of how the new CBA would impact the amount of escrow that would come out of his salary.

In 2010 Kovalchuk signed a 15-year deal with the Devils worth $100 million. In 2008, Ovechkin signed a 13-year extension with the Caps worth $124 million.

“I am in the same position as [Kovalchuk],” Ovechkin said. “I talked to him, I talked to [Evgeni] Malkin. I talked to [Pavel] Datsyuk. I talked to all the Russian players there. If the deal is going to cut our contracts,  I’ll probably stay there.”

Asked what he needs to see in the CBA to keep him in the NHL, Ovechkin said, “I have 10 years [actually nine remaining] and they want to cut my contract for five years and want to cut my salary [by] 24 percent. I’d rather stay at home with my family and my parents.”

According to NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, the KHL has said NHL players could not play in the KHL once the CBA is ratified.

Ovechkin certainly made a hasty exit from his hometown of Moscow. After the lockout ended on Sunday, Ovechkin was on a plane and at DullesAirport by Monday night.

“He was coming back,” Capitals general manager George McPhee said. “It was my understanding that within 10 hours of the handshake deal he was packed up, moved out and on the plane.”

Asked what that told him about Ovechkin, “He wants to play here in the best league in the world. He’s a competitive guy and this is the place you want to be.”

Ovechkin said he had a “very good” experience playing in front of family and friends in Moscow, where he recorded 19 goals and 21 assists in 31 games for Moscow Dynamo. In fact, as late as last week he said he did not expect an agreement to be reached between the NHL and the players.

“To be honest with you, no,” he said. “I thought I was going to stay until the end of the season and play in Russia. You can ask any guys in Russia what they think and they’d say the same thing. It was a hard time for us, but it’s over.”

Ovechkin said he’s in “good shape” and expects his time in Russia will help him transition quickly when the Capitals officially open training camp, likely on Saturday.

Asked if he has a message for fans who have seen the NHL shut down twice in eight years, Ovechkin said, “This is my first time and I can tell you right now it’s not a good feeling when you sit at home and watch TV and watching different sports if you’re a hockey fan.

“Last night at the airport people recognized me and said, ‘Hey, thanks very much just for coming back. We can’t wait to see you play.’ Fans love hockey.”