Our friend Dmitry Chesnokov chatted with Viktor Kozlov recently; you can find the original Russian interview at Sovetsky Sport.
VK: “I have never had anything like that in my career. I was playing for a team that from the first game of the regular season was considered one of the favorites in the East. I was trusted [by the coach]. And in the end we went to the quarter finals of the Stanley Cup. I liked the season. It was difficult, but interesting at least because we were winning a lot.”
It looked to me that Washington did not look good during the final month of the regular season, when your opponents were Tampa and Atlanta. Maybe the team lost motivation?
“It is quite possible. Last season we had a killer end to the regular season. Every game was like a battle for survival. That’s why the guys were getting ready as if it was the final battle. And this year we knew in advance that we made it to the postseason, that we would get a second or third seed… It affected the team. Probably we eased up a little bit and didn’t play with the right intensity; even in the playoffs when we let the Rangers take a 3-1 lead right away. But I have to give props to the Rangers. They have a great team.”
How did Bruce Boudreau’s decision to put Varlamov in goal instead of Theodore affect the team?
“It was a strong move. Jose had an off game. And when the bid was placed on Semyon, he started playing great. Without exaggerating, he [won] us the series against the Rangers. I play forward. But it is still reflected on your actions, when you know that there is a goalie behind you, who will rescue you and produce a fantastic save. His confidence passed on to other players.”
Did Theodore have any conflicts with Varlamov? Some are already comparing the two to Mozart and Salieri.
“I don’t think so… Jose is a professional. He understood well that Semyon was not at fault in this situation. The coach decided to [go with] Varlamov. It’s nothing personal. Quite the opposite, Theodore supported [Varlamov]. I saw that during games he would cheer Semyon up, gave him some advice.”
How did it happen that Pittsburgh beat you in the second round? You can see that the Penguins outshot the Capitals two to one.
“It may sound banal, but Pittsburgh is a very good team. They don’t have any weak spots. Their forwards are good, as well as their defense and their goalie. The duo of Malkin and Crosby… You understand that it is not easy to deal with them. But there are also Staal, Guerin, Kunitz.”
In Game 7 in Washington you were simply blown out 2-6.
“Everything happens. Yes, it is a shame, not nice. But what can you do now? There was not enough left [in us] for the seventh game, both emotionally and physically. The guys played two full series taking it to Game 7 in every round. We fought for survival with the Rangers. And we just broke down [against Pittsburgh].”
What can you say about your game?
“I hoped for a lot more. But I am happy with what I have. I finally scored my first career playoff goal. It could have been a lot worse, right? I actually don’t know how to rate myself. The coach should do that. And my personal opinion and my game I would rather keep to myself.”
When the Capitals crashed out of the Stanley Cup you didn’t have a team meeting. The coach simply spoke with each player individually. Varlamov, for example, was told that his spot on the roster for the next season is not guaranteed and he had to prove with his play that he deserves it. And what were you told?
“My situation is different. I don’t have a contract for the next season. The coach asked me if I wanted to continue playing for Washington, and what to tell the general manager. Of course I answered that I want to [play for the Capitals]. I like the organization, a great team, great guys. Next season the Capitals should have a very interesting team.”
Maybe Boudreau somehow hinted that they wanted to keep you in Washington?
“I don’t think that this will be the coach’s decision. And I haven’t received any information from the general manager.”
What did you do after the meeting?
“We, everyone from the team, went to a restaurant. We had a nice get-together. Thank god there were no problems. Everyone is alive and well.” [laughs]
Someone told me that you went to a sushi bar.
“Yes. We hung out, laughed. We had a great evening. We actually have a great spirit of friendship in this team. Plus, we were winning. That’s why the mood was good and there were no tensions.”
There are a lot of rumors that you will sign with one of the KHL teams. Some even mention Salavat Ulaef and SKA St. Petersburg in particular.
“I don’t know how these rumors started. I have not had any discussions with [any team], because there were playoffs. Work is above all. Just yesterday I got to Miami. Right now I am making barbeque. As for moving to Russia… I am 34 years old. In this age you have to consider all offers, including those from teams in Russia.”
If you were offered to stay in Washington, but with a reduced contract, would you agree?
“I would probably agree. But I don’t know how many years I would last there. You know that an athlete’s [career] is short. At the same time I am hearing that the KHL is a very
interesting league. I was following the Gagarin Cup and caught myself thinking that it would be interesting to play in the Russian [league]. Right now I am at a crossroads. I don’t know what turn my career would take. It is good in America, and it is also interesting back home. I have not made a firm decision yet. But I hope to make it soon.”
How would you pick your team if you decide to move to the KHL?
“I would like to be with a club that sets big goals, wins frequently… What’s the most important for a player? To enjoy hockey. That’s where memories come from. And not from a place where you have lived.”
Have you had any offers from the KHL?
“There is interest. But we shouldn’t talk about it yet. There are not a lot of specifics, and we, athletes, are superstitious people.”
There were also reports that your teammate Donald Brashear is going to move to Vityaz Checkhov [of the KHL]. Did he ask you anything about Russia?
“He was interested [to know things], yes. I will tell you more, for about a year now Donald has been studying Russian. Either because he really aims for the KHL, or because he wants to have more in common with the Russians in Washington. But that’s the fact.”
How did your charity initiative go? I know that you were trying to send some hockey equipment that the NHLPA helped you with, for kids in the Lada Togliatti hockey school.
“There is some kind of problem with it… The [cargo with] equipment made it to Moscow. But there were problems with the paperwork, and now it is being sent back to redo the paperwork and re-send it again. I would really want this equipment to make it to Togliatti. I have heard that the school is havi
ng financial problems. So, I would help any way I can.”
Is there a lot of equipment?
“At least for two full teams. The problem is with shipping and customs clearance. There are a lot of technical issues. But I am not doing it for myself. I remember myself being a kid, when you’re given the equipment, and you’re on cloud nine from happiness. For every kid who is starting to play hockey, equipment is the best gift. But right now it is stuck at the border.”
Finally I want to ask you about the 2010 Olympics. Would you like to play in Vancouver?
“With great pleasure! Especially if Vyacheslav Bykov is the coach, and he really needs me.”
He did visit you in Washington with Igor Zakharkin, his assistant.
“Yes, and he invited me to Moscow at the end of August. A pre-Olympics training camp is planned there. I will definitely come.”