Gonchar: Players might stay in the KHL

Sergei Gonchar plans on returning to Ottawa if there’s an NHL season, but he’s not so sure about some fellow Russian stars.

A month after Alex Ovechkin raised eyebrows by saying he might stay and play in the KHL if he doesn’t like the terms of the new CBA in the NHL, Gonchar said that kind of talk isn't far-fetched. He told ESPN.com Friday in an interview from Magnitogorsk, Russia, that in his opinion, it's a possibility.

"Yeah, why not? If you think about it, maybe you can put something in the new CBA," Gonchar said. "If the guys feel like it’s not fair what’s on the table, they might ask [NHLPA executive director] Don [Fehr] to put something in the new CBA to allow them to stay back home. I mean, why not? We don’t know where it's going with that new CBA. Everything is possible. That’s why I think there is a chance that a guy like Alex might stay back home."

Then again, this also could be the kind of talk meant to pressure owners into compromising in the labor talks.

Technically speaking, the KHL and the NHL have a memo of understanding, whereby each league promises to respect each other’s contracts, meaning players under NHL contracts currently in the KHL would be returning to North America after the lockout ends.

In an interview Sept. 28 with ESPN.com, KHL vice president Ilya Kochevrin insisted his league would respect that agreement with the NHL.

"It’s all going to be done on a professional basis, it’s all going to be transparent and legal," Kochevrin said.

"Actually, I think it’s going to be a success for the relationship between the KHL and the NHL," he later added. "We have an agreement and it’s a great mechanism to solve any issue that we have between us."

Still, rumors persist that Ovechkin and the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk or Pavel Datsyuk might consider trying to stay in Russia, even after the lockout ends.

"Obviously, we would have to look at the new CBA and vote on it," Gonchar said. "I’m just saying if the guys don’t like [it], especially now guys like Alex and Ilya like it so much here, maybe they would just ask [to stay]."

Gonchar, however, says he’s headed back to Ottawa once the lockout ends.

"I still have one more year in Ottawa," the 38-year-old said. "So if it’s going to be this year, I’m definitely coming back. And next year I would like to come back and play if I’m healthy and if there’s interest in the NHL for me. I would definitely want to play over there. But at the same time, the KHL is better now than it was and I’m not taking that option off the table, either."

Like any NHL veteran, however, the lockout thing is getting old for Gonchar.

"Tell me who’s out there who isn't tired of it?" he said. "It must be the same for the fans and media as well. It seems like the only thing the owners know to do to us is to lock us out. Nobody likes it."

In the meantime, Gonchar believes the KHL is taking important strides. He played in the old Russian super league during the previous lockout, in 2004-05, and says the KHL is a step up.

"Actually, it’s really good, the league is much better than I remember last time when I played here seven years ago," he said. "The hockey is more competitive and we’re playing at a higher level. I do wish that they made the ice rink a bit smaller, that would add more excitement to the game. Otherwise, I like it, I like it a lot."

Gonchar points to the hybrid rinks in Finland -- between international-size and NHL-size -- as the perfect solution.

Regardless, Gonchar believes the KHL increasingly will become a home for young Russian stars.

"More young players are wanting to stay here now. When I was young, everyone wanted to go to the NHL because back home the hockey wasn’t that good and we wanted to play in the best league in the world," he said. "But now, the KHL is getting better and better, more young guys will want to stay because they’re comfortable and playing in front of their own fans."

In Magnitogorsk, Gonchar has been reunited with Malkin, his old Pittsburgh Penguins buddy.

"It’s something special," Gonchar said. "We had chemistory playing together in Pittsburgh. And now we’re back together. It’s exciting and it’s nice to have that feeling again. Especially because you’re not just playing with a great player, but you’re playing with a great friend. Putting those two things together is something special."