This is quite lengthy, but I finally finished transcribing the entire interview with Don Waddell following the trade of Ilya Kovalchuk. I will post the whole thing.
If you didn’t see it, there is also a blog from my interview with Kovalchuk in the lobby of the team hotel as he was on his way to New Jersey. I posted that around midnight when I got back to my hotel.
I will report from the morning skate. We’ll see if Bergfors and Oduya arrive.
Here is the interview. I asked most of the questions, but some came from our local TV and radio folks and a Washington writer.
Q. Why New Jersey? Was that the best deal?
A. For sure. We did a lot of work these last couple of weeks talking to a lot of teams, exploring a lot of different possibilities. This fit everything we were looking for. We were looking for players to put on our NHL team as we speak. But we are also looking to add some assets into the basket. We think we did that very strongly. Patrice Cormier is a high-end junior player, unfortunately suspended for the rest of the year. Just came off the World Junior tournament, where he was the [Canadian] team captain. A very good recognition by Hockey Canada. We think he’s a great prospect – along with the No. 1 pick. We have assets to work with and two players that can help our team now.
Q. Can this move keep you in the playoff hunt?
A. No doubt about it. We expect to be not only to be in the playoff hunt, but we are going to make a push to make sure we are in the playoffs. Johnny Oduya gives you a real, real solid defenseman there. If you look at good teams around the league, they have five real strong defensemen and this really upgrades our defense back there and gives us another guy that we can count on. He’s a great penalty killer. We think he’s going to be a nice addition to our blue line.
Nik Bergfors is a first-year player. He’s got 13 goals. We are going to have to find goals from different people now, he gives us another weapon. Offensively, he’s got a great shot, can play the power play and score some goals.
Q. Did you talk to Kovy?
A. I talk to Kovy. He was out having dinner. I talked to him. I’ll probably talk to him more tonight. He was anxious to hear what team and that was the end of it.
Q. When did [the trade] go down?
A. It went down late. We flew into D.C. here. Probably got to the hotel sometime around 5 o’clock. Had a conference call with ownership to make sure we had support. Probably by 6 o’clock we had finalized a deal with New Jersey.
Q. There has never been an NHL player that turned down a $100 million contract. Is there anything else you could have done?
A. No. First, I would like to thank Ilya Kovalchuk for everything he’s done for our franchise. He’s been a true gentleman, on and off the ice. He’s done a lot of things for our franchise that people don’t even know about. At the end of the day we really felt that we did everything in our power. It goes back even a lot further to last summer, when we were building our team. I met with Ilya and we talked about some players that we’d like to add to our hockey club. He had some suggestions. We felt we had a good summer doing that. First couple months of the season, seven or eight games over .500. We hit a wall in December. Nothing about Ilya Kovalchuk the player, this is a business. I had great support from our ownership group to be able to offer a player over $100 million. It’s a lot of money.
Q. It’s just after the trade, but do you look back and say there is something you could have done differently?
A. No. Obviously as we found out, it was all about money. We built a team that Kovy liked. We knew Kovy wanted to stay for the rest of his career if he could, but when you start looking at trying to sign a player to that kind of contract, I’ve said already tell me which one of our young players do you want me to trade [Evander] Kane or [Zach] Bogosian because there is no way you’ll be able to afford these players going forward. It’s a cap system. If it wasn’t a cap system you could take a different approach. When you are trying to build a team in this system, look around the league there are examples where it didn’t work out real well, you need to have 23 players on the same page. In this case, if you are going to pay max amount of money for one player, it’s really going to limit you what you can do with the rest of your team.
Q. Moving forward, what do you see as the identity of the team?
A. I certainly think this is an opportunity for our younger players like Kane and Bogosian to step forward. It doesn’t mean they are going to grab the team on their shoulders, but it’s going to give them another opportunity. I think our locker room changes obviously when you trade your captain and the voice of your locker room. New guys will step up. I think there will be a challenge for some other players. I think some players are looking forward to that challenge. I think it will be very positive with some of our younger players as far as their responsibilities and roles they get put in to and how the accept it. I think that’s the exciting part. We know these guys, Kane an 18-year-old player, looks like he’s going to be a heck of a player in the very near future if he’s not already there. To be able to continue build guys like Kane and Bogosian and [Ondrej] Pavelec and [Bryan] Little and [Tobias Enstrom], we’ve got a pretty good core of guys to continue to surround other players with.
Q. Did you address the team?
A. I met with the team this morning. I talked about some of the misinformation that was out there yesterday. We went over that. I will address the team tomorrow. This is a profession they choose. It’s a business and I don’t expect any fallouts from it.
Q. After trading other players like [Dany] Heatley and [Marian] Hossa, how do you think the fans are going to react?
A. Any time you trade stars … Fans look at it as a star being traded away. They can never really measure what you get back. In this case we got two NHL players. But we are really happy with the Cormier kid. We think he’s going to be a top player for us in the next few years here. It’s hard for fans to get their head around that. Only thing I can say, this isn’t a knock of Kovy, it’s a knock on all of us, Kovy’s been here eight years and we still haven’t won a playoff game. This team has to take a different identity. We’ve been building around one player for a long time now. We need to build this around a team. I think this gives us an opportunity to do it. I know for fans, it’s tough to swallow. Bottom line is we need to win hockey games. If we can win hockey games and get in the playoffs, that’s what’s going to make all our lives better.
Q. Are there more deals in the offering?
A. We’ll see. We’ve got some flexibility. We have some more assets in the bank today than we had yesterday. So we’ll see. We have a tough schedule here before the Olympic break. We have four out of five games on the road. We’ve got to try to win some games and survive this and come out of the Olympic break we have what we think is a very great schedule. You can have a great schedule but you’ve got to be prepared to play it. We’ll see if there are other needs or things that we can add that will help our hockey team.
Q. You were so confident going into this process about being able to retain Kovlachuk. Were you taken a back by the monetary thing?
A. When you are going in to sign a player, in anything I do, you have to take a positive approach. I’ve always been an upbeat person and take the high-road that we can. When we got to it, I was a little surprised of the ask and then a little more surprised that we couldn’t make a deal that made sense for both of us. Obviously we were willing to give them term. I know there have been [reported] contracts out there, about seven, 12 years. We had eight-, nine-year deals on the table too. At the end of the day, when you offer somebody $100 million it’s hard to fathom how much money that is. I get paid a good salary in my position. I live a very good lifestyle. It’s just hard to put your arms around $100 million.
Q. Are you competing against another NHL team or possibly a Russian team [with contract offers]?
A. The Russian thing, I never really took that. If he decides to go to Russia that’s the thing he’s going to do. We can’t compete against Russia. I think Kovy, he’s got his side he’s going to look at and I don’t blame him. He looks at it, he’s the superstar in Atlanta. If he’s going to stay there, he should be paid the max. This is where it comes down to a business decision. Whether we are competing about the KHL or another NHL team, it will all be worked out in July when he becomes a free agent. We’ll see where he ends up and what kind of dollars he ends up getting. … It was never used as a bargaining chip by them.
Q. At what point did New Jersey become a player in the process?
A. Just the last few days. We’ve been working with a lot of teams here in the last while. It was slow process because this is a big deal. It takes teams time to figure things out. I was at the New Jersey game Sunday night, playing L.A., and the next day I got a phone call that if they were an interested trading partner would there be stuff there that fits. We started talking with them along with the other six or seven teams we had going at that time. I give credit to Lou Lamoriello. He’s been there a long time. He’s had great success. He wanted this player from the moment we talked. He was pretty determined he was going to pay the price. It’s one of those deals you hope works out for both teams because he obviously paid a price to get Ilya and he’s getting a great player. Now the rest is up to the players who were involved in the trade.
Q. Secondary scoring has been an issue. How do you explain taking out a 31-goal scorer and putting in a 13-goal scorer?
A. I said from Day One, you are never going to replace Ilya Kovalchuk. If I added a 25-goal scorer, you’d say it’s not 30 goals. You can’t replace 30 goals. You’ve got to look for other opportunities from players. Let’s face it, the power-play time, other players are going to get that precious two minutes of ice time that Kovy took from guys. So guys are going to score that normally wouldn’t be in that position. The 30 goals are not going to come from one player. It’s got to come collectively from our group. If you look at number of power-play goals, other guys are going to score those goals. Yeah, I’m not going to say we are as good of a goal-scoring team as we were with Ilya, but now we are going to provide opportunities for other players to come up with those goals.
Q. How much input did John Anderson have?
A. I kept John abreast of what was going on through the contract [talks]. He wouldn’t know, especially the younger players. Bergfors we’ve only played against twice. That’s what we have our scouting staff for. We have a great staff, led by Rick Dudley who I brought on board this year. This is his bread and butter. When you start talking about these kinds of deals, he gets excited because this is what he does for a living. He loves to drive from rink to rink to watch all these players. There was a lot of involvement from a lot of people but at the end of the day we had to make a decision that we felt was best for our organization and this is it.
Q. How many teams contacted you and how many would you say were serious.
A. There were 10 or 12 teams that contacted us and five or six teams that were serious.
Q. Did the Olympic break and then the trade deadline three days later affect your timetable or did the other teams want to jump in?
A. It was a combination. The one thing we thought was we would come out of the Olympic break and we didn’t have a lot of time. This deal couldn’t happen in a day. I also said once you start talking to teams you’ve got to continue on. We talk about players all the time, but nobody will even hear about it. When we start talking about Ilya Kovalchuk, I know that’s going to get out there. You start that talk with teams, you’ve got to continue it. Once we started we were prepared to make a deal when we felt there was a deal to make. Once we got the deal done with New Jersey as far as asking for all the components that we got, it was time to make the deal and move on.
Q. How do you separate the business from the personal? You and Ilya go back to since he was a kid.
A. I can remember picking him up at the airport the year we drafted him. He couldn’t speak English trying to talk to him. It was hilarious because my Russian is not real good. My English isn’t much better. Ilya is a good person. He’s been the face of our franchise. There is nothing negative I could ever say about Ilya Kovlachuk whether he’s a Thrasher or a Devil. I have the most respect for him as a family man. I watched him grow up from a kid that got many speeding tickets his first year of driving. Now having two kids with another one on the way with a beautiful wife and family and a very, very good father. I watched him grow up a lot and I’m very proud to be associated with him for as long as I have.
Q. Would it be out of the realm of possibility that he finishes the year in New Jersey and you are in the mix [when he becomes a free agent]?
A. That’s a good question for him. July 1st brings many things. If he is a free agent on July 1st then it’s something we can talk about.
Q. Upside for Bergfors and Cormier?
A. Bergfors is a first-year player. He has 13 goals. We think that will get even better. He’s on pace for basically a 20-goal season as a first-year player. We’ve watched Kane as a first-year player, how he’s gotten better throughout the year. We think the player is only going to get better as he gets more maturity, gets more experience in the league. Whether that’s a 20-, 25-goal scorer on a regular basis is what we hoped. Cormier is probably ideal for a second-line center because he plays both ends of the ice very well. He’s a hard-nosed player, He plays hard as we know, unfortunately suspended right now. Even his game style, he plays a very aggressive style. As Rick Dudley says he’s the kind of guy that every organization wants to have on its reserve list. It was hard for New Jersey to give up this player.
Q. Did he catch your eye [at the World Junior tournament]?
A. Even though players are drafted by other teams we always do rankings on every other player. He was captain of the team there so it wasn’t hard to not watch him. He got a lot of ice time there. We’ve watched him. We’ve seen him quite a bit over his draft year and again at the World Junior. You never know these kinds of deals are going to come together. We had him rated No. 1 as the top prospect for the New Jersey Devils as they did too. When we asked for him, I know it was a tough give. Lou was very professional in wanting to get this deal done so that’s why the player ended up being in the deal.
Q. Can you say something to the fans? You obviously take some heat for a move like this?
A. Our job here is to try to do what’s best for the organization short term and long term. We felt that the way the situation was going, with the amount of money we offered Ilya it wasn’t getting done, yeah we could let it play out and let him walk away on July 1st. Then I think we are taking a big step backward with our franchise. When you are able to add two NHL players to put in your lineup immediately, a very, very top prospect and another first-round pick and not giving up the year. We had deals that looked like draft picks and prospects that were very, very appealing but didn’t help our NHL team right now. We wanted to make sure that we added players to our NHL club right now because we are one point out of a playoff spot as we sit here today. This team believes that they can be in the playoffs and we wanted to make sure we gave them every chance to do that.
Q. Was playing out the year a serious option?
A. We talked about it awhile back but as we got closer it wasn’t the right thing to do.