August 03, 2011
On August 2, 2011 Pavel Datsyuk(notes) was presented with the Kharlamov Trophy in Moscow, the award presented by Sovetsky Sport. Named as the best Russian NHL player by his fellow countrymen playing in the NHL, Datsyuk halted Alex Ovechkin's(notes) 5-year run as the award's recipient.
Datsyuk arrived at Sovetsky Sport's headquarters with his agent Gary Greenstin on time and spent some time taking pictures with fans and signing autographs.
Datsyuk confessed that he doesn't watch his own highlights, and even at the ceremony he shied away from watching the reel and tried to keep his eyes on something else.
"Fighting is not my style. You don't get paid extra to do it. And I was actually only defending in that fight. Perry and I were face to face and after looking into his eyes I realized that either I'd finish with hockey, or I'd end this fight in a draw... And the refs helped me a bit when I was pushing Perry down. I work very well with refs!" he said.
"I had dreamt about a Gordie Howe hat-trick for a while. But after that fight coach Babcock didn't put me on the ice in that game again. I was on the bench for 10 minutes. I got really cold."
To honor Datsyuk's fighting skills, MMA fighter Fedor Emelianenko (through his representative) presented Datsyuk with a pair of autographed fighting gloves.
"Thank God, I am not the once with a cigarette," Datsyuk said after he accepted the gift.
After the ceremony Pavel Datsyuk and I sat down at a nearby Uzbek restaurant for an exclusive one-on-one interview.
Q. The summer is coming to an end for NHL players with some who have already started getting ready for the next season. Do you feel rested?
DATSYUK: "Rested? The next two weeks will be my real vacation as well as the start of my preseason training. I am leaving on vacation with my family for two weeks. I want to turn off from everything. I feel very, very tired from everything right now. I had my hockey school in Ekaterinburg, I had this trip to Moscow, a few other things. I want to spend the next two weeks only with my daughter. I miss her a lot during the long hockey season."
It sounds like after the hockey season and all the other chores you have to do in Russia after it, you only have two weeks of real vacation every year.
"Not really. In Russia I met with a lot of my friends, we went out. It's a different kind of time out. The next two weeks are just for me to do absolutely nothing but being with my daughter. I have to do the parent thing, try to teach her something, try to give her all my love. It's just different. She will be 9 years old soon and she will go to the third grade in the fall in Ekaterinburg. It's difficult to be away from her for so long."
You have been living in the United States for a long time where it is your second home now. Do you feel like you're stuck above the ocean, or do you still feel like North America is where you work and Russia is your home?
"Detroit is where I work. Detroit is a place where the atmosphere is really great, where I don't have a lot of temptations. And when I go home to Russia it's a vacation, it's my home, it's the place where I was born. So there is plenty of contrast in these places for me. It's like this at this time for me. Maybe something will change in the future, but at this time this is what I feel."
You had a few injuries last season with the wrist injury bothering you quite a bit at the end of the season. Have you recovered from it?
"Not yet. It lets me know it's still there. When I had my hockey camp for kids and I started shooting the puck, I could feel that my wrist wasn't there for me. I hope to get in better in the next two weeks while on vacation. Maybe I will apply some heat to it by laying on the beach. This will give me some time to see if my wrist is ready."
Some players go for non-traditional medicine when treating injuries. I know one player who ordered special gels from China to treat his ailments. Do you have something like this?
"No, I haven't resorted to that yet. Not to the traditional, not to the non-traditional. I haven't had physical therapy. As I mentioned, time flies so fast when I am in Russia, in Ekaterinburg. It is one of my minuses that I do pay enough attention to my health, don't spend enough time on it, because there is so much I want to do and I want to make sure I do it."
Have you been following what the Red Wings have been doing in the offseason, what other teams have been doing?
"I have been trying to stay away from newspapers and the Internet. I spend way too much time on the Internet as is. And now there is so much more going on around me that I just didn't have any time. Of course I know all the major news that, for example, Draper retired, as did Osgood, Modano. Rafalski retired when I was still in Detroit.
"Yes, a few of our legendary veterans have retired but they will stay with the club in another role. Maybe they will stay on as coaches for the time being. It's difficult to say right now because they have only just retired. But I think the club will do everything to keep them to help the team."
"But they will have to be replaced and there will be someone who will be a candidate for their spots. There will have to be someone who will have to fill in their important roles. It's getting more difficult every year because Detroit is like a red drape for most teams and every team wants to beat us. And we have to thank them for it because this is how they make us better. We try to win every game and this competition makes us stronger."
The Red Wings are a bit of a different team now. What will the expectations be now for Detroit? It seems that there aren't any young bright stars on the team, or is this perception deceptive?
"Regardless of what the expectations are, the goals set for us every year are the ultimate ones. That's what I love about Detroit. That's what's different about Detroit, that's what pushes us to play with a double energy. And as far as the team being new, yes, it's different now. But it's difficult to say exactly what has changed. It seems like not a lot has changed, but all changes are still changes. We have to take some time to take a look at each other, to find some chemistry. But I think we all understand each other and we will all pull in one direction and not like Swan, Pike and Crawfish [Russian fable]. Detroit is world renowned for the fact that regardless of what player joins the Red Wings' system he understands right away how he is treated by the club, and the way he treats the club is just as good."
There is some talk that the Red Wings may be moved to the Eastern Conference. What are your thoughts on that?
"You mentioned that we will save so much time just on travel alone. We have changed so many time zones over the years, traveled so many miles that we should soon be getting our pilot's licenses. Just to illustrate that point: Our travel time during the last Stanley Cup Final we played in was just about an hour. Some would feel that if we were playing a team from a different conference, it should be really far away. It just didn't seem very logical that we kept flying far away during the regular season within our own conference, and now in the finals against a team from a different conference we were so close geographically and it was one of our shortest trips.
"So, of course it would be a huge advantage for us to be in the Eastern Conference because we'd spend less of our energy on non-game related stuff. It is especially important for a team with a few older players. But as far as motivation, I am sure teams in the Eastern Conference would be just as motivated to play against us as teams from the Western Conference."
But some historic rivalries will be lost, like the one you have against the Blackhawks ...
"Well, something will have to give. But I am sure some new rivalries will be born if we move."
You are a very outspoken person and speak your mind. Do you see yourself in a role with the NHLPA? There is a possibility of a lockout if the owners and players don't agree on a new CBA.
"Every professional has to do what they are professionals at. The League and the PA hired professionals to negotiate this to the end. And the less interference we have, the more of a chance we have to come to a good solution. And if a lot of people chip in with their advices we will have the same bad outcome we had after the last lockout. We, players, should stick to playing because we're mostly just pawns in this game. If we stick to playing hockey, we will only help the people we have hired to negotiate. Every team has a representative who lets other players know about the state of the negotiations. But the negotiations themselves must be handled by the professionals who know how to handle negotiations, who know how to get what is being asked for."
After the last lockout players lost...
[Datsyuk interrupts] "Ha! Almost everything!"
What was the players' biggest loss?
"The fact that we have the salary cap now. And also the fact that we're also paying the owners if they don't have profits. These are the biggest losses."
A lot of owners still say that the system is broken and it is not working. Are you shocked to hear things like this after it seemed like owners got almost everything they wanted?
"I think this whole situation must be tied to the worldwide economic crisis. This is at least a part of the problem. There is no such thing as 'enough money' and it means they will probably experiment with some new system and try it on us. Most likely we will have to adapt to it."
You sound like players have already lost.
"Well, the advantage on this chess board is on the owners' side and not ours, in my opinion. We have to use all of our aces."
Maybe hockey players will look up to the NFLPA and the issue of head injuries and inconsistent rulings in the next CBA?
"It is a very serious issue in hockey and a lot has been said about it. But it seems that the more we talk about it the more it happens, the more injuries we have. But it actually depends on players themselves. Emotions are emotions, but you have to realize that you may just take away another player's career. You may leave a family without a father, without someone who provides for the family. So we have to be a little bit careful with our emotions and keep them in check. It all depends on players themselves. We can talk and talk some more, but it we don't look after ourselves nothing will change."
Front-loaded long-term contracts will also be an issue during the negotiations with a lot of owners saying they don't like them at all.
"The system itself we have in place now makes these contracts inevitable. Both players and club managers have to resort to them because there is no other way at this time to keep a player long term. So these added on years are there even though both sides realize a player may not play out the tail end of his contract. There is just no way right now to keep a player and pay him a lot without these long-term deals. The system dictates its rules and everyone has to find creative ways. This is what we have now. If rules are changes, everyone will try to find another way. We'll have to create another bicycle. How else can you do it if you want to create a good team and keep it together?"
How did the economic crisis hurt Detroit?
"It hurt us very badly. Detroit was one of the first cities to have been hit with the crisis. It became evident from the first year three years ago when a lot of fans couldn't afford to go to games. There were less fans in the stands, but not because fans lost interest, but because a lot of people just didn't have the ability to go -- tickets are not cheap, add parking, some popcorn, drinks and a baseball hat, and you're looking at a couple of hundred dollars. But the last season, especially the end of the last season, we thanked our fans that the building was sold out 20 games in a row. I hope this will continue and this record will carry over to the next season and seasons after."
There is a notion that mostly only European players care about the Olympics. Is it so? And how do North American players feel about the Olympics?
"I wouldn't agree. I have spoken to a lot of players and they all say that the Olympic Games is the most important international tournament. And even though it is very short, it is still important especially because you represent your country. And every player is motivated to play in the Olympics. You have a chance to win the Stanley Cup every year, but only once every four years do you have a chance to win the Olympic gold. And it can also happen that you may not even be selected to play in the Olympics. I think that for North Americans the Olympics are just as important as the Stanley Cup."
This year you didn't travel to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards ceremony. Was it because you knew you wouldn't get an award?
"Not at all. It just so happened. The circumstances didn't allow me to go to Vegas this year. Personal trophies are important. They are also the result of the team play, and not just an individual effort. But your individual contribution is also honored and recognized and this is very self-assuring and important."
Of all the individual trophies you have not won, which one would you most like to win?
"I have so many of them that I haven't won. I think I would most like to win a trophy to the best goaltending duo."
And who would be the second one in your duo?
"Ilya Bryzgalov, of course! We'd figure out who's the number one and who's the number two... But I think the Art Ross Trophy is a very important one to win, the one I would like to win."
What was it like being roommates with Bryzgalov in Vancouver for the last Olympics? You both are very outspoken.
"When we moved in there were two rooms with one common area - one single and one double room. Bryzgalov, Nabokov and I were moved into those rooms. I decided that those two should room together so that we'd have only one goalie alive after that first night. But then I decided against that idea [Datsyuk joked about the reported spat between Bryzgalov and Nabokov]. If there was a competition between Ilya and myself about who would tell more Socrates' quotes, Bryzgalov would win. I have my own different quotes in my vocabulary."
"I wouldn't take a lot to convince me to open an account. But who is going to write there for me? This is such a drug that I just don't have any time for it right now. The Internet itself is a drug. And I just wouldn't want to let fans down by joining and then not posting, disappearing. Maybe one day I will find some time for it."
Your agent Gary Greenstin said he'd want to write a book with you about your life and your career. Are you seriously considering it?
"This idea is floating around in the clouds, but would it be needed? I can write, of course it's not easy, and have a lot to say, but who is going to read it? The hockey circle is really small and there aren't a lot of people who will have to read this book. I would want this book to be interesting, and not just an autobiography."
What is it like to be a person with such a great talent in something good and to know that a lot of people look up to you?
[Long pause during which his phone rings] "This is a good time for a phone call to buy me some time to think... I don't even know how to answer this. But as you were asking this question I started thinking not about myself, but about all the people who have helped me find this talent inside of me, to open it and make it better, polish it. And how can I use this hockey talent for non-hockey purposes? I hope to not only share it on the ice and in my hockey school, but also share other things like the ability to listen and be considerate of each other. I'd want to share everything I have been taught by my coaches and those close to me."
And to wrap it up, tell us one of the best jokes you have heard lately.
"Turn off the voice recorder, and I will tell you."
And I did.