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Volume 7 No. 95
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Hangin' With ... Retired NHL Defenseman & Verzasca Group Co-Founder Darius Kasparaitis

DARIUS KASPARAITIS is a retired hockey player and the co-founder and president of real estate company Verzasca Group. Kasparaitis played 14 seasons in the NHL for four different franchises before ending his career in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League. The Lithuanian native was recently inducted into the Russian Hockey Hall of Fame. While he's currently not actively involved in hockey, the 43-year-old does not rule out returning to the game he loves in the future. Kasparaitis recently spoke with SBD Global about the KHL's development, Winter Olympics and the revived World Cup of Hockey.

On the differences between the KHL and NHL ...
Darius Kasparaitis: When I left the NHL in 2007, and I went to the KHL -- actually it was the Russian league at that time but the next year, 2008, it switched to KHL -- I was surprised by first of all the level of hockey and second of all by the professionalism of the team. Flying in private jets, staying in five-star hotels, things like that were at the same level as the NHL. I think it’s the best league in EuroAsia, outside of the North American continent. The NHL is always going to be the best league because the NHL has a lot of history, it’s almost 100-years-old. [The KHL] is another option for players who cannot make the NHL, they can still go and play in the KHL and have a great career there. They want to compete with the NHL. They want to have good hockey. [Russian President Vladimir] Putin put a lot a emphasis toward hockey in Russia, especially before the Sochi Games.

On the KHL's rapid expansion ...
Kasparaitis: I think they are expanding too fast, and I don’t think they have a lot of talent available for all those teams. Overexpansion could become an issue for the KHL, especially as they are going to markets where there is no hockey like China. They will experiment a lot and figure out what will work best and hopefully they can settle down for maybe 30 good teams.

On the revived World Cup of Hockey ...
Kasparaitis: You cannot really compare it to soccer. Soccer is a worldwide game. Hockey is more a northern climate game. We have six nations who dominate the sport and the other ones try to reach the level of those six. It’s tough. You can maybe make two top NHL teams play against the two top teams from the KHL and the two top teams from Sweden and have a tournament like that, but I don’t think there’s much interest because the NHL is a business. It’s all about making money, producing talent and putting on a show. The NHL is always going to take care of business for the league and its players. That’s why they are not very happy to participate in the Olympics. A lot of things can happen during the Olympic tournament, which is not run by the NHL. The World Cup of Hockey is the closest tournament to the Olympics where you can see all the best players from all over the world compete.

On the IIHF's annual World Championships ...
Kasparaitis: It is too much, it’s every year. It becomes too repetitive. I don’t think it creates much excitement anymore. The World Championships in the early '90s and late '80s were a different event because nobody from the Soviet Union played in the NHL so it was the biggest event for them to show their talent. That’s why they always won because they trained for that every single year to be No. 1. Right now it is just something to pass through for players that didn’t make the playoffs. There’s not much emphasis on winning the gold medal anymore, and if you win the gold medal I don’t think anybody cares. People just get too bored. If you make it at least every other year it would make it more interesting.

Darius Kasparaitis
On NHL players potentially not competing at the next Winter Games ...
Kasparaitis: I participated in four Olympics, so I think it would hurt a lot. Any player who plays in Olympics has this memory for the rest of their lives and I don’t think it’s fair to take it away from the players. … Sports like basketball or hockey are the No. 1 draws in the Olympics. Watching hockey, or basketball in the Summer Olympics, that's what people are excited about. Once they started doing something like this they should continue doing it. It’s not fair. Why should Vancouver have NHL players and now Korea is not allowed to have them.

On safety and concussions in hockey ...
Kasparaitis: I feel the physicality of the game has changed a lot. There's not as much hitting as there used to be. The game is changing a lot from that aspect. The rules are changing as well. Players now are afraid to throw the hits because it seems every big hit is being evaluated. ... The game is clearer right now and faster as players are in better shape, but I think the origins of hockey -- a little fighting, hitting and scrums -- are missing. There are consequences, we all know that. We want to protect our children and all the players that play the game. I knew there’s the possibility of getting injured but that’s why I chose this sport and why I love it so much. We all make decisions and sacrifices. We are learning more and more about concussions. It’s hard to blame the sport I played that eventually when I’m 70 I might have some kind of disease that may be related to my sport. It just was what I chose to do.

On returning to hockey in a business capacity ...
Kasparaitis: I’d love to be in the hockey business. I just made the decision to step away from hockey for now. I’m raising five kids. I decided to be part of my childrens' lives and work in the real estate business and development business, which is very scary for me. It’s something new. Eventually I come back and do something in hockey. I still go to games. I watch the [Florida] Panthers play a lot. I talk to people from Russia. I’m sill involved, maybe not as much as I want it to be but one day maybe.

Hangin' With runs each Friday in SBD Global.