By Geneen Pipher, Hockey VIPs Magazine
September 28, 2015
“Prove you’re a world-class league”
A group of players from the Kontinental Hockey League’s Medvescak Zagreb, who filed a grievance in August with the KHL Players’ Trade Union over back pay, could find out Tuesday if they will finally receive their wages.
Fifteen Medvescak players, who were under contract for the 2014-15 season, say they haven’t received a paycheck since February and are eagerly awaiting Tuesday’s expected ruling from the KHL Disciplinary Committee on their claims.
The players hope the KHL will force Medvescak to honor its debts and pay them the full amount they earned.
“We just want to get paid,” one player told Hockey VIPs Magazine on the condition he remain unnamed. “I just think it’s an opportunity really — and that’s how I look at this league … I really feel this is an opportunity for the league to make the right decision. … And decide on the direction they want to go. Do they want to go back toward the Super League or do they want to remain one of the top leagues in the world? And that really is true because if other teams start doing this — it becomes a joke.
“I really don’t want to tarnish this league or Medvescak — it’s one of those things — I just want to get paid.”
He said the group is simply hoping for resolution before December.
“We just want to get this done,” he said. “Obviously they are not going to have 700,000 euros sitting on them so a payment plan through the end of December would be a best-case scenario. That’s what we are hoping for.”
Canadian goaltender Mark Dekanich, who played for the team for two seasons, said he is owed more than two months salary, plus equipment. The other 14 teammates are owed similar amounts, he said. And none of them has received significant payment since February.
‘They threatened all of us’
Dekanich is the only one of the 15 complainants willing to speak publicly. He said the team has intimidated and threatened the players, telling them if they speak to the media they will never receive their remaining salaries.
That hasn’t stopped Dekanich, who began a social media blitz in July, calling out the team for not paying its players and pointing out that Medvescak should not even be allowed to be a participant in the 2015-16 season until the club fulfills its obligations from the previous year.
“They threatened all of us, that if anyone went to the media we would never see a dime of anything that we had earned,” he said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania where he is participating in training camp with the Hershey Bears. “They are not allowed to do that … but [their threats] were working until I said something publicly and it sort of stirred it all up; so I guess I am hoping that I was sort of the catalyst in getting this thing going and that the league steps in and does the right thing.”
Dekanich said he is frustrated the league has permitted Medvescak to bring in new players and compete in the 2015-16 season when he and his teammates are still waiting to be paid for their services.
“I know the KHL has rules that won’t allow the team to compete in the league while they have debts but that’s exactly what they are doing right now, so I am hoping that this hearing will really come through for us and sort of teach the team a lesson that you can’t … that you’re not always above the law.
One source said the group initially believed Zagreb was trying to pull a fast one on the KHL.
“We filed [a grievance] in August,” the source said. “We knew the league rules [about a team with debt not being allowed to compete] so we wanted to get it in before the start of the 2015-16 season. At the time we did that we honestly thought that Zagreb was trying to hide it from the league. … As it turned out, it was obvious that the KHL was aware of it and they have chosen not to do anything so far.”
Documents Reveal Extent of Debt, KHL Knowledge
Hockey VIPs Magazine has reviewed several documents, including a letter dated August 31, 2015 and signed by club president Damir Gojanovic, acknowledging Medvescak Zagreb has outstanding debts from the 2014-15 season.
According to the document, the club’s outstanding debt to players and staff is 710,402 euros (approximately $800,000).
In another document, a letter addressed to Andrei Kovalenko, the head of the KHL Players’ Trade Union, from KHL financial director Viktor Beskibalov provides a report on the state of individual clubs’ debts to players. In that letter Medvescak’s outstanding debt of 710,402 euros is acknowledged.
The document also states that between August 1 and September 11, 2015, 179,218 euros of that debt have been paid off. That money has gone to discharge debt to seven current Medvescak players who were still owed money from the 2014-15 season and who signed a payment schedule with the club. If Medvescak lives up to its end of that agreement, those seven players will have received all of their back pay by the end of December.
Dekanich said he and the 14 other players who did not return to the team were offered a payment schedule only after he spoke out on social media in July.
After patiently waiting 5 months(!) for 1/3 my salary, I’ve had enough. Taking action via social media is the last resort. Pay me & I’ll go.
— Mark Dekanich (@dexshow) July 24, 2015
According to one inside source, the payment schedule offered to the group of 15 would be paid out in smaller amounts each month through July 2016. The group said they refused to sign the payment schedule because, after many months of promises that their original contract would be fulfilled, they had no confidence the new agreement would be honored anyway. ‘
“At that time they did not let us know that the KHL was aware of it and backing it, so it seemed to us that they were just trying to cover their tracks,” the source said. “And the unprofessional letter they sent with it was a threatening letter and I figured why not let the KHL — if the KHL wants us to be on a payment plan through December we’ll deal with it from there, but to believe [Medvescak] after all the lies we have heard is just not going to happen.”
To add insult to injury, while much of the 2014-15 squad awaits their salaries from last year, players on this year’s team have been receiving their paychecks. And the seven players who returned to the club have been receiving their back pay as well.
“It frustrates me every day, especially waiting,” one source said. ” And the hardest part was from February when that first paycheck didn’t come until now we’ve just been told lies and told to wait. It’s frustrating. And it’s frustrating to know that they are using our money as a bank to pay their current players. That’s not right. … And that’s crazy to me that the KHL is allowing this to happen. It really is making the league look like a joke.”
KHL Union Boss: Situation ‘Crashes’ League Image
In statements published Sunday by TASS, Gojanovic said the KHL players’ union is aware of the situation and they are working to resolve their debt issues. A request for comment from the KHL players’ union did not receive an immediate response.
“We have already talked to Andrei Kovalenko about the debts,” he said. “We told him how we were going to pay them. Now the situation is like this — half of the players have already agreed with our plan, which we’ll be able to fulfill.
“We’re waiting for the answer from the other half. How soon will we be able to close the debts? These are the details which I wouldn’t like to disclose. It’s a club’s secret.”
Dekanich refuted the notion that Medvescak is waiting on an answer from his group. The players “declined the plan” long ago, he said, noting that the deal was different from the one offered to the seven guys who returned to play another season with the team. ”
My agent told representatives that the deal was unsatisfactory and that I am rejecting it months ago — before we went to the Players’ Trade Union,” he said.
Andrei Kovalenko said in a recent interview with KHL.hr that the KHL players’ union is doing what it can to pressure delinquent clubs to solve their debt problems as soon as possible.
“We’re trying,” Kovalenko said. “We met with leaders of the KHL and we agreed debt repayment plans. The league is clear that this situation crashes its image. … We closely monitor the situation [and] we are constantly in contact with the players, the clubs and the league.”
Steve Bartlett, the agent representing Mark Dekanich and other Medvescak players — past and present — said the KHL must take action if it is to maintain its reputation as one of the world’s best.
“If the KHL is going to be taken seriously as a top-level professional league, you would hope they would take steps — whatever they may be — to protect their players from the financial uncertainty of a team,” he said in a telephone interview with Hockey VIPs Magazine. “And whether that means having some kind of bond in place or protection against this — but first and foremost to put some pressure on Medvescak to make whole these guys.
“They performed their services and the team is still operating. So I think that puts a little different spin on it than if the team had closed the doors and you basically get in line for what is left of the assets. But in this case they are a viable ongoing team so, to me, it makes it even more incumbent on the KHL to protect the past players and put the current players in a situation where they can feel comfortable that they will continue to get paid. And that the team can be successful, which is obviously everybody’s goal. Nobody is trying to put a team out of business. We just want to make sure the obligations are met for those who have signed contracts and performed the services they were asked to do.”
So what do the players expect to happen on Tuesday? Dekanich isn’t sure.
“I really couldn’t tell you,” he said with a wry laugh. “I am hoping we are all paid what we are owed. We’ve earned that money already. We did the work. And it was in a written, binding contract. Are they are going to do anything about it? I am not sure … if this goes through in the league and the union ends up not being able to do anything about it I think we are going to have to take further action to do something to the club that ensures we get paid what we are owed.”
Photographs: Courtesy of Mark Dekanich; Medvescak Zagreb;
Translation assistance: Tatiana Markina