A little more than a year ago, his competitive fire doused by sips of champagne from the Stanley Cup, Detroit Red Wings goalie Dominik Hasek headed into the Czech sunset, a 37-year-old retiree. He said that after winning six Vezina Trophies, two Hart Trophies, an Olympic gold medal and, finally, the Cup, he had nothing left to accomplish. He wanted to bring up his two children and live as a national idol on his native soil.
Imagine Detroit general manager Ken Holland's surprise, then, when Hasek's agent called in mid-May to say Hasek was contemplating a comeback. "It came completely out of left field," Holland says. Though Hasek hadn't made it official as of Monday—he was vacationing in Spain with his family last week and couldn't be reached—the Red Wings think the notoriously mercurial goalie is certain to return.
Hasek's retirement hasn't gone smoothly. He spent part of the time playing as a forward in a Czech in-line league, and in May, Hasek viciously cross-checked an opponent, sending the player—who happened to be Hasek's 13-year-old son's hockey coach—to the hospital with head injuries. Authorities are investigating the Dominator on a charge of causing bodily harm. Jail is unlikely, but Hasek's image has been tarnished at home. On June 25 the Prague daily Lidov� noviny wrote, "For a number of people in the Czech Republic Hasek...is now an arrogant and brutal brawler." The chairman of the Czech Association of In-line Hockey says he believes Hasek is seeking "asylum in the NHL."
Hasek could find it, given how appreciated he is in Detroit and because, even at 38, he may be the world's best goalie. He's said to be in fine shape, and when he retired his skills showed little evidence of decline. Hasek's return will no doubt displace goalie Curtis Joseph, whom the Wings signed to a three-year, $24 million contract last summer. Detroit fans never warmed to Joseph and blamed him for the team's first-round playoff exit. Holland must get Joseph to relax the no-trade clause in his contract (page 124), but the Wings were so eager for Hasek's return that two weeks ago, coach Dave Lewis traveled to Vienna to discuss the details. Wings forward Darren McCarty speaks as if it's a done deal. McCarty says, "I feel bad for CuJo."