WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – Capitals general manager George McPhee’s nearly four-year pursuit of Evgeny Kuznetsov finally reached its conclusion, with the NHL’s 26th overall pick in 2010 signing a contract to play for Washington on Saturday.
The chase was every bit as challenging as it appeared, from the outside looking in.
It took McPhee through a series of twists and turns — spanning from the moment Kuznetsov was drafted, to the moment he signed — with some optimism sprinkled in, all of which was dashed, at every opportunity, with disappointment.
McPhee walked reporters through his timeline of repeated torment, and failure to lure his white wale stateside.
McPhee’s first conversation with Kuznetsov about joining the Capitals, as he explained, came as soon as Washington selected the forward with a longshot at signing him right away.
“When we first drafted him, I really thought that he could play for us, if not right away, within a year,” McPhee said. “And I told him that, and he mentioned, at that time, that he felt he needed two years [playing for Traktor Chelyabinsk] in the KHL. I’ve had those discussions with other players. I’ve had ‘em with Nicky Backstrom and Marcus [Johansson].”
“So we get through the two years, and then he signed a new deal [with Chelyabinsk] for two more years,” he said. “And that was hard on us.”
“I went over to meet with him early in the year, and he indicated that he was coming,” McPhee said.
From that moment, McPhee had to determine exactly when he could be reunited with his top prospect, whose season in Chelyabinsk had been winding down.
“If they make the playoffs, they started … I believe we would know on March 4,” McPhee said. “His team didn’t make the playoffs, but then the KHL introduced this non-playoff playoff about a week before that, where the non playoff teams played for the first overall [draft] pick.
“He had indicated to us that he wasn’t going to play in that. And so, we had all that information (Tuesday) March 4, but then we didn’t know whether his team was gonna release him, because his contract ran through May 1.”
“I was surprised on the morning of (Thursday) March 6,” he furthered the timeline. “I woke up, I had a text from [Assistant General Manager] Don Fishman, who said, ‘I have a signed release.’ So that was the first big move.”
At this point in the timeline is when news broke in the states, that Kuznetsov had been released from his KHL contract.
One day later — Friday, March 7 — Kuznetsov received his visa and passport, legally permitting him to work in and travel to the U.S.
Kuznetsov then had to make a series of international connections, flying from Chelyabinsk, his hometown, to Moscow, then to Munich, and then finally Washington, D.C.
“And the first leg of the flight was delayed at least an hour, because of, I believe, the Malaysian incident,” McPhee said, in reference to a Boeing 777, which mysteriously vanished en-route to China, disrupting flight patterns around the world.
Then finally, more than three and half years after it began, McPhee’s relentless pursuit of Evgeny Kuznetsov, and his repeated attempts to sign him, ended with a face-to-face meeting in the nation’s capital.
“It’s kind of like seeing the Loch Ness monster when he walked in,” McPhee joked. “We’ve heard of you, but we hadn’t seen you.”
“And there he was,” he said, relieved. “And I found it hard to believe he was standing there, after all this, so it’s a pretty neat feeling that this kid’s in the fold.
“And he’s a pretty darn good player.”
Now listen to George McPhee describe it himself.