Igor Esmantovic on Radio Mayak
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Igor Esmantovic on Radio Mayak

CSKA president Igor Esmantovic was a guest on Radio Mayak's Masters of Sport programme.

- Igor Vyacheslavovich, as one of the best CHL functionaries, do you find time to follow the Olympics?

- Today I watched shooting and a little bit of women's fencing. There are times when you can get a little distraction, but mostly I watch all sporting events.

- How do you find sport without audience participation?

- It's difficult because the position is very difficult. People try to work, the psychological pressure is high and when you realise that the stands are empty, it's certainly not a positive thing.

- The Russian Premier League has started. Somewhere matches are being played without fans at all, in the Moscow region only a thousand spectators have been allowed. Do you have no fears that there will be problems with the admission of fans into the stands during hockey?

- There are fears, of course, but the recent measures that have been taken by the authorities have precipitated event to improve the situation. Now, the head of Moscow has outlined the position that a the epidemiological situation trends to improve. We hope for the best.

- We are a month away from the start of the season. Do you hope the situation will get better during this period?

- I would like to. Anyway, CSKA has done everything for that. We have vaccinated all our guys and coaches.

- Was the Russian vaccine used?

- Yes, of course. The foreigners who are flying in are vaccinated in their home countries. And the other guys were vaccinated here.

- Were there no anti-vaxxers?

- No.

- How do you look at the subject of combining national team and club work?

- That's fine. I have a degree in coaching, I graduated from GTSOLIFK back in the nineties. And I believe that everything depends on the person himself, his identity, his charisma, his knowledge, his old background. Whether he is a part-time employee or not, it does not matter. The main thing is what kind of person he is.

- But after all, if a coach is not emotionally available to the club because of the overlap, you as a manager suffer, among other things, a damage to your reputation.

- The manager and head coach have, you know, a fancy word today - KPI. There are a number of things in the contract that relate to sports performance. It is not just a question of a place in the standings, but also of a bonus that applies not only to the hockey players, but to the whole community, which is about one hundred and sixty people. When such contracts are worked out, the head coaches coming to CSKA must understand that there are things that could cause them to lose their place if a result does not satisfy the supervisory board or the club's management team. As happened with Igor (former CSKA head coach Igor Nikitin).

- Did Igor Nikitin lose his KPI?

- He did not fulfil the target set by the supervisory board for the season - to be in first place by winning the Gagarin Cup.

- Most confusing thing was that this decision was only announced two and a half months after the end of the season.

- The Supervisory Board is not made up of just one person; it was necessary to gather all the members, get some opinions and report the situation to the Chairman of the Supervisory Board. We only see Igor Valerievich's work as a result of the first team. But there are also youth lifts, things related to working with young people, so after considering all these points, we made this decision.

- How is Igor Nikitin connected to the lift of the other CSKA teams, he is in charge of the first team?

- Exactly. But by result we mean is about all the work that goes on around the team. There are talented young guys.

- Is he being blamed for not working well with young players?

- You can't say it's his fault. It's a combination of things about the work at the club. We looked at what were mistakes and good things, what was wrong, and came up with the opinion.

- Were you not worried that Igor Nikitin's dismissal would not be understood by the experts and the fans?

- We understand that the risks are high, but the supervisory board has made a well-considered decision. It should be clearly understood that I am not a member of the supervisory board. I am also a KPI hired worker and have my contract, which can also end at any time if I don't meet my target. There are risks everywhere. Now Karpin has been appointed, why is there no risk? It was an impartial decision.

- Does the supervisory board decide by vote?

- Yes.

- Was there much variation in the votes?

- I would not like to talk about it. I am not a member of the supervisory board, it would not be correct.

- Did you try to defend the head coach as club president, or do you not have that competence?

- I do not have such competence.

- Does the supervisory board select and approve Sergei Fedorov?

- Yes. There were several candidates for the head coach position, but we settled on Fedorov.

- Who else was there besides Fedorov?

- I would not like to say. Right now, the person may be signing a contract with another club in North America.

- Sergei Fedorov was a unique player, respected among all the fans. But we never saw Sergei Fedorov as a coach.

- Firstly, it is respect for Sergey as a hockey player and a person who has been associated with hockey all his life. Secondly, for several seasons Sergey has been there for the team. He is a member of the supervisory board, and Igor Nikitin and I didn't mind when Sergey came out on the ice and practiced some things at the end of training sessions. He worked a lot on faceoffs. For the last few years Sergey has flown with the team to the play-offs, working as Rosneft's executive director's sports adviser. He was totally involved in all the tactics, psychology and domestic matters that came up for the guys. We communicated closely at every game. He has experience of working with both Tikhonov and coaches from North American leagues, why not trust him, so we made that decision.

- Was there a temptation to invite a top foreign specialist from the NHL, using Fedorov's communication skills? After all, we see the example of Avangard, which was successful.

- There was no such temptation. We had John Torchetti working for us many years ago. And that experience was unsuccessful. I think a foreign coach was not considered by the Supervisory Board.

- After the systemic hockey of Kvartalnov and Nikitin, CSKA could play a more brilliant hockey game with the arrival of Fedorov. There is a fan demand for such a game, isn't there?

- The demand is there and it has to be there. That's what the fans are for, to enjoy the game which should, above all, be of great pleasure. I would not like to discuss the CSKA game with Nikitin, because it produced results. And we have been at the forefront of Russian hockey for the last few years. Sergey was a virtuoso forward and I think there will be an emphasis on attacking in the team's game. But you can't have an attack without defence, it's a combination of different things. Besides, a lot of ice rinks are now changing to twenty-six metres, and we are doing the same. Sergey has a lot of experience in this. With this size of rink, the specifics of passing attacks change, so do the corner battles, the clashes, the checking. Sergey, as a member of the supervisory board, approves all the candidates who come to us. All the guys who came in this year were approved by Sergey as well. CSKA is not a club where the president decides everything on his own. Everything is coordinated here, we discuss it with Boris Petrovich Mikhailov, with Tretiak and with Bure. So all the candidates who made the team today, Sergey Viktorovich agreed at the phase of the programme, which was being prepared even before the new year. I am already forming the line-up for next season today and there are a number of candidates who have agreed. Their contract is up and they are coming from North America. But it is too early to discuss it.

- Are there any candidates who are available to go out?

- In particular.

- Who will help Sergey Fedorov in the coaching office and will he remain the member of the supervisory board?

- Whether Sergey will keep his position on the supervisory board is, of course, a question for the supervisory board. Today it is not important. And all the guys will help. Sergey has left the entire coaching staff. They all have valid contracts. Now there is already a fruitful work in progress.

- Are you happy with your coaching staff?

- Yes, Sergey is happy with everything. He had carte blanche to change coaches, but he wished to keep the previous ones.

- Did you see how he started working?

- Yeah, but it's mostly ground work now.

- Tell me, is he a demanding, tough coach?

- I love questions like that (laughs). Let's wait a bit. A perfectly normal, well-mannered person who knows everything about hockey. He would probably do his doctoral thesis on Russian and North American hockey. We haven't all arrived yet, we have about ten people still to arrive, they will join us on 28 and 29 July, and on the first of August they will fly to the training camp in Minsk. Today there are only twelve of the main squad on the ice with the goalkeepers.

- Will Sergey Fedorov have a specific task for the upcoming season?

- You don't even have to ask about this task; CSKA's objective is always first place.

- Like every contract year or in two seasons to take the Gagarin Cup?

- The clear objective of the head coach and his assistants is to win the Gagarin Cup every year. This is a KPI for the bonus system, which both the community and the hockey players can achieve. For example, for some people, second place is not a result. And for someone it is. I can tell you that CSKA hockey players did not receive a single penny of the premium segment for second place. We moved away from that a long time ago. Our bonus program went away four years ago, and hockey players and coaches can only get a bonus for the Gagarin Cup. This is what makes us different from all the other clubs in the league.

- How harsh it is. How do you recruit normal people into a team with such restrictions in the Premier League?

- We try.

- There is a lot of talk that Kirill Kaprizov might not re-sign with Minnesota and return to CSKA. What can you say about that?

- It is clear that he wants to play in North America and he is negotiating with a club. We have opportunity to give him money. But today we are not talking about him moving to our team.

- Are you waiting to see how the situation develops overseas?

- Yes.

- His agent said there was a decent offer from CSKA.

- I cannot comment on what his agent said. We are not in talks with Kaprizov yet.

- Would you like to negotiate with him?

- Of course, I'd love it if he'd give it a chance.

- In an interview with Radio Mayak, you once said that you were against a salary cap. The hockey season has passed, have you changed your opinion?

- I don't want to anger the fans. That's how sensitive they are about these moments. My answer is, have you seen world cup hockey?

- Yes.

- Did you enjoy it?

- So-so.

- I have tried to answer your question. Draw your own conclusions from what you see.

I have already banned myself from answering this question so as not to anger the people. As a League board member, I have been involved on more than one occasion in events related to the salary cap, where I have moved the economic component, which should explain in terms of economics the figures that are realistic in order to have the best sports interests for all teams. But I was not heard by the board of directors. When asked why exactly the figure of 900 million is the cap for the whole league, I don't know and don't understand the answer. But we have to put up with it and work within that framework. You can see how it is now. There are economic justifications. This is the case in all areas of business. But, unfortunately, the League has chosen its own way.

- It was said that a salary cap would level the teams and add to the tournament's spectacle, has this happened?

- You're probably talking about the salary floor as well. There is also a salary floor for the teams with the lowest budgets. The league strategy states that the salary floor doesn't go up quickly, but it does. But only the league can watch the economic component of teams today. For example, CSKA cannot watch the floor lift for Dynamo Riga, Amur Khabarovsk or Dynamo Minsk today. But the fact that the floor should be raised is certainly fair. But no one knows how it goes up yet.

- Has hockey itself become more interesting since the introduction of the salary cap?

- You saw who played the finals and semi-finals, nothing has changed with regard to the result. But I think the quality of play in the league has reduced.

- As for the final game against Avangard last season. Why didn't you manage to win after all?

- The series was even and interesting. Omsk played a little better in small nuances. In the balance of the majority and minority, the opponent was better than us. I think that played a key role.

- Why are there so many changes in the CSKA squad this off-season?

- Changes are always interpreted by the departure of hockey players. On the forward line, the main players were Mamin, Shalunov, Laipsik, Kempe, Loktionov, Telegin.

- Is Shalunov definitely left yet?

- As far as I know, he has not signed a contract with the North Americans as of yet. But I also know that he is looking for options with an agent to go to North America. We had a very good and frank conversation with him a month ago. We gave each other time to think about it and offered him a contract. Then we called him up and he said: "Igor Vyacheslavovich, I have decided to go to America to try my hand".

- But the world championship in Riga performed by Shalunov did not impress.

- The World Cup and the NHL are different planets, different moments. There's the pandemic, the tough season, the motivation, the physical condition. Probably, Maksim failed a little bit somewhere in the role he was given. But the motivational part of going overseas would be different, weighty. I know him, he is a decent man, cultured and intelligent, so he deserves to take his chance.

- There was news that Dynamo were ready to offer him a contract. Are the agents playing this again?

- I have no idea. I'm learning a lot from you here.

- So he has no other options in Russia?

- I didn't ask him about his options in Russia, there was specific talk about CSKA.

- Let's talk about the changes in the lines. There were two goalkeepers - Sharychenkov and Johansson. Why did Reideborn come?

- A simple question. Let's start with Sharychenkov. He did a great job under his contract, we had a very smooth format halfway through the season. The situation with Johansson was very difficult, we were deciding until the last moment before the deadline whether to strengthen with a new goalkeeper, because Lars' injury did not give us a guarantee of his number one. And just a month before the deadline I decided that we would keep Johansson and not take a foreigner. Then we just took Gilmore and went with Johansson to the playoffs. And thank goodness our goalkeepers and goalkeeping coach Sergey Naumov were able to do what they did and Lars Johansson did a great job under his contract. He has a high salary for the cap, and here we started from the price-quality point of view. We wished him success, he signed a great contract with SKA. God willing, he will do well there. And similarly on Sharychenkov, we thought that the Fedotov-Sharychenkov pairing would not be a pairing with which to solve huge problems. There was a difficult question here. I decided to take Reideborn. We managed to solve the financial issue with him. And I can tell you, with all my heart, that there is no one to take, no one comes here for that kind of money from North America. Let's take a look at who has come to the league in the last three years from the goalkeepers. Pasquale. The only ones leaving us are Vasilevskiy, Sorokin, Shesterkin. The question here is twofold. Price - quality, and I couldn't offer such money to Johansson that Peter gave him.

- What about our homegrown goalkeepers? We raised them, we gave them away, and now nothing?

- Counter question to you, how many goalkeepers have we sent to the NHL in the last few years? Do you know how many Russian goalkeepers are playing in the NHL now?

- Ten.

- That's right. Let's keep growing. Askarov is growing up in St. Petersburg. We have our own boy growing up 2001, who was second at the World Championships. The question is how far we will grow. We will grow, and then they will get there.

- Let's move on to the rearguads. Why is Svedberg so interesting?

- He played the second most in Barys. Firstly, we found common ground with him in strategy and thought, plus his size and training. He has a desire to win something big. In addition his stature. All that played a paramount role. To be quite frank, as a club manager I am committed to big hockey players. Look at how we've changed this year in terms of growth and power. Of course, the twenty-six metre field and some tactical things have played their part.

- Let's move on to the forwards. We have looked at the stats of the Swedes Nordström and Vallmark overseas and they are not impressive. Why did they join the team?

- We keep an eye on the stats across the ocean all the time. We drafted Vallmark, we had the rights to him. Nordström is a world champion, a Stanley Cup winner, made a decision in his prime, and for not that much money. And Vallmark was on the verge of top-6 in his teams too, because it didn't make sense to keep him in the top-12. He tried to fill that niche, it didn't work out a bit. The arrival of players like Vallmark and Nordström is a big success for us.

- Is Magnitka's Plotnikov a third tier, not a top-6?

- Why? If you want to go line by line, I'll give you the top six. Slepyshev, Grigorenko, Nordstrom, Vallmark, Plotnikov, Soshnikov, Okulov. Here are, let's say, the top 7. Plus we have Karnaukhov and Andronov in the top 9. And then we have Sorkin, Yurtaikin and young guys - Guskov, Rtischev, Komissarov. National team players who have been involved all along. We are fine in that respect. We have a clear plan for the season, and now the task of the guys is to prove their place in that top-6. We're going to draw on the board right now, but it's the field that decides everything. Look at last season, we had fractures in Slepyshev, Sergeev, almost a fracture in Kempe, who didn't play for fifty days before the playoffs. Slepyshev had a difficult injury and later a cracked bone. And Samorukov's shoulder went out, he didn't play in the play-offs. We got so banged up a little bit. I don't think it was a plus for us in the playoffs.

- Has the squad been fully assembled so far?

- The squad is a hundred per cent complete. In addition, there is a stash in the cap. We are not as simple as the fans think.

- Speaking of losses, did you try to talk someone out of it? Samorukov, for example.

- He has a valid contract, there's no use talking him out of it. He has been on loan. We really want him and we are talking to him about it now. He understands himself, he would need a few more years here to establish himself. I am in touch with his team where he is now, his general manager. They will give him a chance this year, how he does, and so anything can happen.

- Who else didn't really want to be let go?

- I was really counting on Maksim Mamin to stay. He's a great hockey player and person, a dedicated guy for the club. But you see, he wants to try it there. He has such a chance, let him try.

- Of the administrators, have you managed to keep all of them this season?

- Everything is fine. Except that Alexey Volkov was let go to Omsk last year. Sport is a flexible thing, everything happens. There are no big victories without defeats.

As for the other guys, like Loktionov, Kempe, Laipsek. They are not bad guys, but as the season has shown, we still need forwards who will work well individually in the minority. Loktionov had a great season, no complaints about him, but I still decided that Plotnikov would play better, so we traded him to Khabarovsk.

We understand that Ivan Telegin is a highly skilled striker and dedicated hockey player, but his salary is a bit high for a third or fourth tier.