Q: Why Philadelphia, over Pittsburgh or other teams?
Before I start talking, it surprised me when you said money – there were a lot more teams with a higher offer than Philadelphia. I didn’t think I was going to go there, but after the conversation with the coaches and Chris Pronger, I started to like it and I also like that there is something to this from their side, and that was important to me.
Q: What did you like about Philadelphia that swayed you here?
“There’s a lot of things. When you’re talking to the GM and the coaches, you kind of have a sense of what they’re trying to do. I also liked that they made a great move with the goalies before I even signed with them. I follow a little bit of the NHL even though I haven’t been there for three years, I follow it, and I know Philadelphia’s defense is very good.
There are some guys that when I was the NHL I played against and it was always tough to play against them. They’re not only good defensively, but they’re also good offensively, and that’s very important in the new style of the NHL. I’m going to have an opportunity to play a little more than [I would] with other teams. Philadelphia made those trades, and I know it’s going to be tough for the fans because the GM traded two very good players, and it’s not easy for the fans to see it, but I think it would be a lot easier for me to come in if the team stayed the way it was before, but you never know.
Q: Why now and not any time in the last three seasons?
“I had a contract. I couldn’t do it.”
Q: There was never any thought of trying to buy your way out of that, an offer strong enough from an NHL club?
“A few years ago, when I was leaving, when I was in the NHL, the Russian team came in February, during the season, and asked me if I wanted to go to Russia. Back then, I didn’t know. I was playing there during the lockout and I really liked it, everything about it. Back then I wanted to play for the New York Rangers, and I promised [Omsk] if I don’t make a deal with the New York Rangers, I’m going to go to Omsk. That’s what I promised them.
Three years ago with the free agency, we couldn’t make any deals with Glen Sather. So like I promised, I signed with Avangard Omsk. But right after I signed, there were very good offers from the NHL. But I told myself I’m not going to look back, because I already did what I did. It was kind of tough to leave, because then I saw there was more interest from the NHL, but I had already made the promise. I know for some people it might be just words, but for me, I’m very religious, I know it would bite me a little later. I know that. That’s the way the word works.
Q: Would you have stayed in the NHL or were you happy with the decision to go to Russia for three years?
“That’s exactly what I said, that I’m not going to look back. I made the decision three years ago and I said I’m going to go over there. You just think it might be better, it might be worse. You never know. There’s only one life. We cannot compare it with anything else. You can match it, how it was going to be, but that’s not real. So I said I’m not going to look back, if I made a good decision or a bad decision. I just made the decision and stayed with it.
Q: Are you concerned that you may have damaged your relationship with Mario Lemieux over the last week?
“I talked to him once, and it wasn’t very long – just talked about the organization and how it would be. I didn’t talk to him since I was in the NHL. I didn’t promise anybody anything, that I was going back. The Penguins seemed like I did something wrong or something bad, and I don’t think I did something bad. If they feel like that, I cannot change their minds. I was a free agent, and I had my chance to pick wherever I think is best for me. Everybody does in the world. I have the option to pick. It doesn’t mean that if somebody wants you or they’re telling you they would like you to be on their team, that it means I have to go there – I still have the choice. At least that’s what I think. I still have the choice to make a decision where I’m going to go.
If I hurt somebody, I apologize, I didn’t mean it, but this is my life and I want to make the choice. It’s tough for me to explain in English, it would be a lot easier for me to explain in Czech because I didn’t speak a lot of English in the last three years. I could even explain in Russian better. I have to learn better English now. But hopefully you guys understand what I’m trying to say.
Q: What are your impression of the Flyers centers and playing alongside them?
“I didn’t look at a roster… I wasn’t here for three seasons, and during those three years, when I looked at [all the NHL] lineups, all the new guys, there’s probably half of the young guys I don’t know. There are a lot of young guys in the league. When I looked, for me, [I looked for] a centerman, a good player like Briere or Giroux, who are right handed, have a right-handed shot. I like to play power play on the right side, and I think because they’re right-handed, they like to play on the other side.
I think it would be a problem if I would play in Pittsburgh with Crosby or Malkin, left handed, and have to play on the other side, when I’ve played all my life on the right side, I don’t think I would be able to play there. Or if I go to Detroit, with Datsyuk and Zetterberg, they’re left-handed and they play on the boards where I used to play at. I don’t think I would have a chance to play at all. If I’m going to play good, at least I have a chance to play. That was the other thing I was thinking.
Q: The length, the one-year contract – is that mutual for both sides?
I wanted one year. I never talked about more than one year. I think it’s better for me, I think it’s better for the team, because you don’t know how things are going to go. You might think it’s going to be good, you might hope it’s going to be good, but there’s no guarantees. And if something goes wrong, why have two years? Why?
Q: You said something about the changing of the roster and it would be easier if those guys were still there. Are you talking about pressure on you because of who you are, and the expectations that could be put on you?
There’s always going to be pressure. That’s not the problem. The only thing I’m worried about is that there are a lot of people who counted on me to help them. If the things were only about myself, I’m not worried about it. If I play bad and people criticize me, that’s fine. But on the other side, if I play bad, people are going to criticize those people who brought me to Philadelphia. That would be tough for me. That’s the way I think. It would be tough for me because I let somebody down who believed in me. With my age, that’s the toughest thing. That’s the way I look at it.
Q: Do you feel after not being in the NHL for several years that you can jump back into NHL hockey and be a productive player?
I don’t know. There’s no guarantees. I hope so. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have come here. I could easily stay in Russia, make a lot more money and play 60 games. I wanted to try it. I wanted to have the feeling. I believe it’s for my good, and hopefully the team too.
Q: Have you set any goals for yourself?
“I have only one goal, and that’s making people happy. To make them happy, to those people who believe I can be good. That’s my goal. If I make them happy, I’ll be happy.
Q: How do you compare to yourself to when you last played in the NHL?
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask somebody else who saw me years ago and then saw me last month. I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see.”
Q: Can you compare the level of play in the KHL to the NHL?
“I’ve always said that the league is a totally different game on the big ice. That’s why there’s so many great players who play on the small ice that when they come on the big ice, they can’t play. It’s a totally different game. It’s tough to compare. If you had asked me three years ago, I would have told you I love to play on the small ice. I played there for 17 years. I felt a lot stronger than anybody, and I can play on the boards. It was a lot easier for me to play hockey on the small ice. But when I get to the big ice, I had to get used to it. I couldn’t play the same style. I had to change, had skate a lot more. You cannot stand. You have to skate a lot more. I think I’m better than I was, but you have to skate all the time. If you stand there, you don’t have a chance to play on the big ice.
Q: Conditioning-wise, the Flyers were talking about how you have re-committed yourself.
“Well, I don’t think I recommitted. I’ve always been a hard worker. If I didn’t work hard I wouldn’t have a chance to play. If you want to be the best, if you want to be one o the best, you have to work extremely hard. There’s no other secret. The more you work, the better you’re going to be. I was really lucky in Pittsburgh. I always loved to work when I was younger. But I came to Pittsburgh when I was younger, and there were different players who were extremely hard-working guys like Paul Coffey, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet. I loved it.
I think for the young players, if you have a chance to watch the older guys and how they work, it’s going to help you. They show you the different ways of thinking. Young guys, I don’t think you know if you’re young. You just have to make the next step. They challenged me. Paul Coffey, I’ll always remember, he always told me, you have to do whatever I do. And I know it was tough for me, but he always you said you have to do it, and I did it. And thanks to him and those guys, I’m still playing.”