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NHLPA executive director Ted Saskin takes questions from The Canadian Press

Question: Can you compare your mood on the eve of the NHL season to a year ago coming out of the lockout?

Saskin: Certainly in a great mood right now. We're highly optimistic about the upcoming season. Last season there was clearly some uncertainty. We knew we made a lot of changes to the game itself, and we weren't sure exactly how that would unfold. Obviously during the season the new rule changes provided a tremendous improvement to the game on-ice, both for the fans to watch and for the players to play. And that resulted as well in a tremendous financial result for everyone associated with the hockey industry. So certainly as we embark on this next season there's a lot of optimism.


Question: What are your expectations for league revenues this year, in other words, where do you think the salary cap is headed?

Saskin: Well I think we're still going to see growth. I don't think we can expect that tremendous, one-year boost above the projected number that we had last year. Last year we exceeded by the projections by over $350 million, which is fantastic but also unusual because there was a lot of uncertainty in the projection. This year we're working off the real (revenue) number from this year. I still see good growth coming in a number of areas so I remain optimistic that both revenues and the cap will grow this season although more moderately than what we witnessed this past year.


Question: The collective bargaining agreement was largely portrayed as a bad one for the players coming out of the lockout. A year later, do you think that's been proven wrong?

Saskin: Certainly we thought at the time of this deal that it was going to work out better than a lot of people were projecting. And frankly, when we completed the deal after the 1994 lockout everyone had said the players had gotten killed in that negotiation and obviously things worked out rather well for the players in the last decade or so. We certainly knew that players were taking a hit (in the new deal), we were prepared to do that from the outset in these negotiations, but we still thought there was good upside in the deal and obviously with players earning over 104.5 per cent of their salaries in 2005-06 and getting back over $125 million (from owners), the season worked out very well.


Question: In general, what do you think of the contracts that were handed out this off-season?

Saskin: When you see the type of contracts that were handed this summer there's no question there was a strong market for player salaries. I think it's indicative of the fact that ownership is also bullish about the prospects for revenue growth in the future. They clearly are committing a lot of dollars to a number of great players and they would only be doing that if they were confident of good growth ahead.


Question: Some big awards were handed out in salary arbitration this summer, some perhaps a little more than what most people felt some of those players were really worth. Is arbitration still needed?

Saskin: Arbitration is still a small part of the system. Most of the contracts are negotiated without arbitration but it's a necessary tool when the parties are unable to get to a negotiated solution. I think there's no doubt the arbitration results were strong for the players as was the overall market place. But at the end of the day I wouldn't rush to judgement after one season on how it works.


Question: Your reaction to Rick DiPietro's 15-year contract with the New York Islanders?

Saskin: It's not really up to me to have a view on it. At the end of the day it's up to Rick and the Islanders to be comfortable with the deal and obviously they are. Over time we'll see how it pans out for each side, I wish them both the best with it. It's clearly unusual to have contracts of that length in this type of system but in certain circumstances I guess there will be opportunities that are permissible under our current CBA.


Question: The NHL saw its first offer sheet to a restricted free agent in years and not surprisingly was followed by negative reaction towards Philadelphia GM Bob Clarke for trying it. Your take on it?

Saskin: I think it's great that we had one. When we negotiated this agreement, we fully expected there would be more offer sheets. I guess when you haven't had any in so long, just even one is a step in the right direction. I think any criticism of the Flyers is entirely ill-founded and inappropriate because they're using the system like anybody else to improve their team and that should be respected and encouraged. I expect that there's probably a reluctance among the hockey community that over time is going to dissipate and we're going to see a lot more of these offer sheets in the future. We certainly should in this type of system.


Question: Where does your side stand right now on the issue of visors?

Saskin: We continue to educate the players on the health risks with not wearing a visor but we also respect the fact that this is a matter of choice and the players have the right to choose their equipment when they pursue their livelihood. We'll continue to educate the players in this area. There's no question that what our personal feelings are, aren't the determining factors here. It's up to the players at the end of the day. I've communicated that to the NHL and they understand that.


Question: The wounds still don't seem healed within the union. Does this union stand together?

Saskin: I think over 99.9 per cent of our membership is together. Obviously there's going to be a couple of players, maybe a small handful, that are going to have questions. I think we've been very open in answering those questions and having good dialogue and discussion about it. I'm certainly comfortable at our executive (committee) moving in the right direction and we're going to try to continue to represent all of the players to the best of our ability.


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