SBD/December 11, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHL Lockout, Day 87: Kings RW Westgarth Discusses Failed Talks, Union Strategy

Westgarth says accepting a 10-year deal would be "fundamentally unethical"
NHL Kings RW and NHLPA negotiating committee member Kevin Westgarth said it would be “unreasonable to restrict who is in the room” during CBA negotiations with the league, but that is “a decision for a great number of players to make,” according to Jeff Klein of the N.Y. TIMES. Westgarth said the “genesis” of the format to meet without NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr “was a little strange.” Westgarth discussed what was “achieved by last week’s talks in New York, why the owners seem to be dodging mediation, why they dislike Donald Fehr, what really happened in the reported shouting match between [Bruins Owner] Jeremy Jacobs and [Sabres G] Ryan Miller, and where the two sides stand on key issues as new talks loom in the 12-week-old NHL lockout.” Below are excerpts from the Q&A:

Q: The week before you had mediators in the talks for two days and it didn’t help. Did the mediators suggest the players-owners-only format?
Westgarth: It was suggested right at the end of the mediation. … After that meeting Gary came to us with the idea to take staff out of the room. You have to wonder why you couldn’t do that through the mediator, or how invested they were on doing anything with a mediator. It’s been strange timing for many, many things.

Q: [Jets D] Ron Hainsey told me that there was a brief, three-minute period when the players met with the owners without even Steve Fehr in the room. It was just the players, no union staff.
Westgarth: Yes, I was in that meeting. It was very unorthodox. It was very strange to want to do that. I get it -- if I was one of them I’d rather tell us what the deal is instead of Don Fehr.

Q: It does seem, even from a neutral point of view, like the owners are making a massive effort to go around Don.
Westgarth: We’ve seen it before. Seven years ago the tactics were very similar. … I hope people understand that for the most part that these things that are said that demonize Don, these anonymous reports that, say, Don is misrepresenting information to the players -- I can pretty much assure you that’s coming from somewhere in the NHL. … There’s only four owners that have been involved in pretty much everything since the summer. It even became obvious that the guys they brought in last week had nowhere near a complete understanding of what the proposals were and where we were in the negotiations. There was a half dozen if not more players who knew exactly where we were and could detail every aspect of where we were at.

Q: What would you say the players’ side has gained in these talks so far?
Westgarth: I would say we’re getting a much better pension. There’s no question about that. … In my mind the pension is the only thing we can point to as a gain.

Q: What other issues are important going forward?
Westgarth: I kind of laugh when the owners say, “We need labor stability -- a deal of five years doesn’t do that.” They’re basically saying they’re going to lock us out again. They don’t have to lock us out, you know. I don’t know if this is an apt analogy, but it’s basically like shooting somebody in your living room and complaining that they’re bleeding on your carpet. … We’re being asked to accept a term of 10 years, where the average hockey career is about four and a half. … I’d say to accept a deal of that length is fundamentally unethical.

Q: What about individual contracts? The owners want to limit deals to five years, or seven in some specific cases. What’s the problem with that?
Westgarth: It’s very strange to hear the owners beating their drum so loudly on contract lengths. I don’t know -- maybe they want a two-tiered system (NYTIMES.com, 12/10).
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