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Eagleson: I declare my conflicts in advance and people agree to deal with me on that basis. I have told the Players' Association on innumerable occasions that anytime they get tired of me, let me out. I can make more money doing other things.
SI: John, Alan joked earlier about your involvement with the Red Wings, a team that has made the Stanley Cup playoffs only once in the last 11 seasons. It's been said that you were Detroit's de facto general manager. What blame do you bear for the club's troubles?
Ziegler. I was the club's counselor and a vice-president, and as part of management I accept responsibility for the results. But I was never de facto general manager. Contrary to public opinion in Detroit, Bruce Norris [the Red Wing owner] has always permitted his general managers to make all decisions with respect to player personnel.
SI: We noticed that your entry in Who's Who mentioned your law practice but made no reference to your involvement with hockey.
Eagleson: Smart move, John.
Ziegler. I've held vice-presidencies of lots of companies, and they're not listed, either.
SI: As though declining attendance, lack of a TV contract and the rest were not enough, a recent Harris survey shows a 35% dropoff in fan interest in hockey. Everything considered, do you really feel that hockey is a major-league sport?
Ziegler. Yes, I do. First of all, it's a great sport. Second, it is in the major markets and the grosses are major league. Attendance was down last year but not by much. We probably have more individual coverage—games televised locally—than any other sport, baseball possibly excepted. As for the testings you mentioned, these are always a year behind what's going on. We've had major problems, but the solutions. I feel, are under way. The momentum is turning, especially with the attitude now by the players that they're a partner in the business.
Eagleson: The partnership John refers to is a solid one. We're not always happy with the owners and they're not always happy with us, but we can sit down and thrash out our problems. And often agree on action to be taken.
SI: Alan Eagleson "runs" hockey—or so people say. John, as the new president of the NHL, do you agree?