Translations by Tomas Jandik
An Interview with Dominik Hasek (Hasek's blog at his website www.dominator.cz) - 26-Jan-05
Do you still think that the season would start?
There is still hope, but smaller than a month ago, thatís for sure. Now everything depends primarily on Gary Bettman, i.e. the NHL. He closed the league, and so all itís just his decision. All of us are sorry about that, but there is nothing much we can do.
Whatís your opinion about $270 million worth of losses incurred by the NHL last year?
Yes, thatís what the NHL claimed. We as players (NHLPA) have claimed since the beginning that it was much less, and eventually our opinion got confirmed by one of the most prestigious financial magazines Forbes 2 months ago. Let me give you an example of NY Rangers that claimed losses of $30 million. The cable TV company that owns them, however, paid Rangers considerably less for the broadcast rights compared to the true value of those rights ($30-$50 million). Some teams sell skyboxes valued between $10-$20 million through different companies owned by them, etc. Simply, itís not a problem to turn $5 million profit into $5 million loss on a paper. Despite that, we admit that approximately half of the teams generated losses last years and we want to help them as much as we can.
So why donít you accept NHLís proposal for salary caps?
We must not ever accept the salary cap, simply because itís against all the rules of free market (incidentally, I just remembered some of the quotes of the Czech President regarding [the benefits of] marketís invisible hand Ė Gary Bettman would probably set him on fire for that). Moreover, this plan does not contain any provisions helping economically weaker teams that Gary does not care much.
Why did not NHL accept your proposal that was in my opinion almost too conciliatory?
Even I was surprised by our boardís proposal to cut all salaries by 24%. But thatís also the proof that we care about hockey and the fans. Besides that, our proposal also contained provisions designed to help economically weaker teams and taxes on teams that would ďexcessivelyĒ pay their players. The NHLís response just strengthened our opinion that hockey is the last thing Gary Bettman cares about and that his interest in weaker teams in just marginal. What matters for him is whether NHL generates highest profits possible as a whole.
Is your union of 750 players indeed so unified?
Yes, and I say that with my clearest conscience. As a union, we were regularly educated every year and informed that this situation could happen. Now we are able to be in daily phone and Internet contact with our representatives and with the other members of the association. So we receive all important information, and, in turn, our representatives receive our opinions as well. In addition, I think that the arrogant attitude on NHL representatives unified us even more.
How long do you think the lockout would last? What if you donít start this season? Would the league resume the next season?
If we donít start this year, I donít see a reason (chance) why we should start next season, or even two or three years from now. I think NHL clearly showed to us what they care about. In that case, my recommendation would be to create a new league. Granted, it would take 2 to 4 years to reach the level of the NHL, but I think it would be the best solution given the circumstances.
When do you think there would be the last chance to salvage this season?
The next 2, possibly 3 weeks can still change something. But as I said Ė itís now primarily the NHLís turn. If they donít want to change their mind and start negotiation, they should say that and officially cancel the season at the same time. Their attitude is unfair to all the hockey fans, as well as to us players and to our families. However, that precisely Garyís tactics why he does that. First, they donít have to return money the season tickets to the fans yet, and so they can continue collecting interest payments at the fansí expense. Second, it generates uncertainty on the part of players regarding our near future. So itís very difficult for us to plan anything, or potentially look for an employment bringing another source of income, if we still donít know what would happen tomorrow. And thatís precisely what suits Gary, because he counts on us accepting his demands if we suffer financially.
I heard that you are paid by your Association. Is it true?
Yes, during last 10 years we have saved approximately $150 million that help us now to get through this difficult period. Most importantly, this fund pays the health insurance for us, as well as for our families. In addition, it also pays us approximately $8,000 per month. These payments can last for 3 years, because we know the lockout can be lengthy.
In case the season starts, how many games do you consider the minimal possible number?
Me personally? Approximately 26. But all of this is in Gary Bettmanís hands and I am convinced that this is the last thing he cares about. Whether it will be 10 games or none? His goal is to squeeze us as much as possible, and everything else is totally secondary.
Is it true that your representatives do not earn any money?
Yes, Bob Godenow and his associates gave up their salaries until the new collective agreement is signed.
Whatís your opinion about the fact that because of the lockout, so many people lost their jobs?
This is something that we are obviously sorry about, but we canít influence it. NHL was locked out by nobody else but Gary Bettman. Because of that approximately 50% of its employees were fired, and the rest had to accept 20%-40% salary reductions. Gary himself maybe just the only one earning his full salary (about 3 million per year). Of course, that would not ruin the NHL, but it sets a terrible example for all his employees and in fact for all the people who deal with the NHL. Itís not surprising that lately, sponsors have looked at NHL far more negatively compared to 5 or 10 years ago. And this trend could not be different, if they can see examples like this.
You make so much money and you canít come to an agreement. I donít understand that.
We are interested in reaching an agreement, returning back to work and offering all the fans an entertainment that they are used to. However, the agreement cannot be one sided, it must be fair for both sides. That we make (not now) big money? I admit that and I am very grateful I can have this opportunity. People form their opinions and talk about those things. Both positively and negatively. I would just like to say that a professional athlete is in an exceptional position. Us (JŠgr, Sundin , Iginla, and others) are both workforce and an exceptional product. People arenít usually surprised by the fact that an outstanding car, a beautiful jewel or an airplane cost X Crowns or Dollars. But when it is a person, often their attitudes differ.
How do the players in America look at the fact that so many players went to Europe?
Principally, one could say we support it. These days, there are about 300 players from our association there. It gives them the opportunity to play hockey again and earn an income. I hope that European leagues donít get locked out (as the NHL) the next year and that the players will be able to take advantage of this opportunity again.
You personally lost more that one half of your salary. Nobody can give you that back!?
Yes, you are right. And besides, at my age, I wonít gain any advantages because of the new agreement. But at this time, my situation doesnít matter much Ė itís those 750 players and thousands more who will come after me. Iíll tell you something. In 1994, during the time of the last lockout, a few players were in a similar situation I am now. And they also supported the union to the maximum, and nobody could have returned their lost money to them as well. However, all those players earned in the eyes of their colleagues something that you cannot buy with money. ADMIRATION and RESPECT. Their names probably would not be recognized now by many of you, but we still talk about them with respect and will remember them even when we are retired. Those players are my role models thanks to their actions and attitudes, and I am proud to follow their footsteps.
What will happen with you if the NHL does not start this year?
Well, thatís something Iíd like to know myself! We all will know more in a couple of weeks, but even then, if we donít start, there will be many uncertainties I canít influence. In any case, Iíd regret retiring because of the NHL lockout.
Explain to me why there is no NHL season? Why canít you strike a bargain?
This is the most frequent question, and so I left it at the very end, and Iíll answer you from the playerís point of view very simply. Because we canít come to an agreement with the NHL. At most, we can help them. But we canít be completely responsible for what they do with the money. We are, first of all, hockey players. Like any ordinary corporation they should have a budget and hire people (if they donít know how to do it themselves) who can work with it. Thatís how it works everywhere else in the world.
Tomas Jandik is the resident Czech on LetsGoPens.com and is a man who unifies all the goodies of the American dream - meaning, of course, being a Pitt graduate, a Razorback, and a Penguins fan.
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