LA Kings enforcer (and noted Princeton grad) Kevin Westgarth has been heavily involved in the league's labor discussions, and spoke about their frustrations on the "I'm Just Sayin'" radio show with Danny Picard.
One of his remarks in particular interested me, as it sums up the players' view of the current deadlock.
Westgarth explained why the players suspect a lockout is inevitable. There's a clear trust deficit after what happened in 2005.
"We were willing to make concessions over the years. It's just unfortunate because for us, any type of work stoppage would be an absolute last resort, but I think--as we're seeing with a lot of the leagues now, but especially the NHL--it seems like the lockout tends to be essentially one of their negotiating tactics, and kind of a first course of action to try to put pressure on the players.
As a player, you know, it sucks, because we want to play hockey, we know the fans want to see hockey, and we love watching it as much as anybody else."
We Care, You Don't
Compare Westgarth's remarks to the latest take on the situation by Bill Daly, who blames the players for supposedly not caring about the September 15th deadline. If players are prepping for a lockout, the date isn't "meaningful" enough to them.
I suspect Daly was sent to give this angle more publicity because Bettman is less popular than a flesh-eating cockroach, but that's an odd claim. The players will be more hurt by a work stoppage than the owners will be. They'll lose a bigger chunk of their career earnings that they will never get back. It won't be a offset by future gains.
The Land of Constant Lockouts
If the players assume the league will use a lockout as a pressure tactic against them, why shouldn't they? It happened the last time -- and everyone knows the owners can outlast the players financially.
We can also assume the NHL was inspired by recent events. The NBA locked out their players for a few months in order to get everything they wanted, and didn't suffer from a loss of fans. The NFL used a lockout to win the day, too, though they preserved the season. Time and again, owners are willing to risk a short term hit for long term gains. Lockouts can be a useful tool.
The players' suspicion skyrocketed when the NHL came out with their
big old bullying, ahem, extremely ambitious first proposal. Suspicion deepened when the owners made only minor tweaks to their offer, called it a major concession, then stopped. Both sides hope the pressure of a looming deadline will get them a better deal, but the NHL knows its power and hasn't budged more than one face-saving inch.
We can hope this is just garden-variety brinksmanship. But what about Bettman's tenure should make us believe a lockout will be avoided? Eh...I've got nothing. In that respect, I understand the players' frustration. I just wonder how far the union is prepared to go. The owners have the upper hand now that the salary cap is in place; the NHLPA can only hope to minimize their losses. The $70M salary cap is too high, but most teams aren't near that limit, so there should be room to deal. But the players certainly don't trust Bettman and the owners to come up with a long-term solution, and that makes me nervous.