The Kontinetal Hockey League hosted a press conference on August 6 to mark SKA's signing of goalie Evgeny Nabokov and defenseman Denis Grebeshkov. KHL President Alexander Medvedev introduced the players and presented them jerseys from the club, after which they took questions from journalists.
Question: How did your relatives feel about the move to Russia? It's no secret that Evgeny Nabokov's kids don't even speak Russian.
Nabokov: The fact that my kids don't speak Russian was one of the reasons for the move. They should know their roots, the country's culture. My wife supported me completely on this. My parents were really happy, especially my father, who'll be able to see me play more often.
Grebeshkov: My parents were also very excited. My mom will finally have a chance to visit me during the season, and my father will be able to watch hockey on TV at a normal hour in the evening, instead of late at night.
Question: Seeing a goalie wear No. 20 reminds everyone of Tretiak. What led you to that choice, Evgeny?
Nabokov: That's the number my father wore.
Question: As you were signing contracts with a Russian club, were you at all motivated – in addition to the good terms – by a desire to benefit Russian hockey with your play?
Nabokov: Without a doubt. That's exactly why we've returned to Russia. Russian players want to perform at home, that's logical. I think that's a trend that will continue for the near future.
Grebeshkov: Perhaps it would be a bit immodest for us to say that we're going to take the KHL to a new level with our play, but we're going to try to do everything possible to improve our hockey. It's more satisfying to compete for your own native Cup.
Medvedev: I'd like to add that 250 Russian hockey players have left for North America over the past decade. Of them, just 15 played in the NHL. And of those who returned, just 10 players have been able to continue their professional careers in Russia. This is yet another reminder that no one is planning to interfere with players who want to test themselves in the NHL. It's just a question of at what age, and at what physical and mental state, it makes sense to do that. It's no coincidence that we want to include age restrictions in our future framework agreement with the NHL, in order to protect the futures of kids who not only do not develop there, but often degrade as players. Don't forget that Ovechkin and Malkin, before their NHL debuts, played more than 100 matches each at Russian hockey's top level. Before leaving for North America, you need to learn something at home first. So that some North American coach in the AHL won't tell a young defenseman: “Forget all your Russian tricks and just fire the puck along the boards.”
Question: In the upcoming season we'll once again have pauses for the Euro Hockey Tour. How would you prefer the season be held: with four breaks in the calendar, or with all of regular season games in a row?
Grebeshkov: Of course it's easier to play 82 games in a row and not have to think about anything else. But it's always a pleasure to travel for the Russian national team. We'll play for the fans.
Nabokov: I'll answer briefly: If it's necessary, I'll come.
Medvedev: I want to stress that the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (FHR) will fulfill all of the contract obligations that it has agreed to. We anticipated a “window” for the national team. There are no Olympics this year, and the world championship time frame is reasonable. That allowed us to schedule the playoffs, with the exception of the first round, without so-called doubled matches, where the first and second games, as well as the third and fourth games, are held back to back in two days.
As for the players who will be called on to compete for the national team, it's entirely logical that Russian fans want to see the best. The only question is how strong these competitions will be. Which is exactly why for the 2011-12 season, I, as a member of the IIHF, and FHR President Vladislav Tretiak will propose ways to reform these competitions, to improve them. We need higher-quality competitions without losing money for the FHR. It's no secret that the Euro Hockey Tour is a source of financing for the FHR. But the KHL also has a financial relationship with the FHR. And that means that from September or October we'll be discussing the competition format with the Federation. Russia has the ability to influence the fate of this tournament.
In conclusion, to make this press conference even more interesting, I'll add that I've received confirmation that forward Maxim Afinogenov has agreed to the terms of his contract with SKA. It's a so-called 5+1 deal, where he'll sign for five years with an option for a sixth season if both sides agree. Maxim Afinogenov is returning to Russia.